Andreesen Horowitz tips $10m into American AI drone upstart

Could there be something more to this one than hype?

Technology investment firm Andreesen Horowitz has poured $10.5m into an artificial intelligence drone upstart, buying itself a place on the board of directors into the bargain.

Shield AI is an American startup making drones which “find people and threats inside buildings without a remote pilot,” according to a company statement.

Co-founder Brandon Tseng said, in his canned statement: "When deployed, Shield AI drones will be the first example of service members using artificial intelligence on the battlefield to gather real-time information that saves lives and will provide immediate protection to US ground forces and innocent civilians caught in conflict."

The firm was founded in 2015 by Tseng, a former soldier, his brother Ryan (CEO) and one Andrew Reiter as CTO. Peter Levine, a general partner at Andreesen Horowitz, now sits on Shield AI’s board. We are told that other investors include Homebrew, Bloomberg Beta, and Founder Collective.

A promotional video from Shield AI shows some fairly standard quadcopter drones buzzing around and being flown through a small building. It also shows (50 seconds onwards) what it says is the AI in the process of identifying humans and mapping out buildings.

One wonders how effective the quadcopter will be given its size and obvious presence – and its intended use case of scouting out potentially hostile humans. A quick punch, toppling and crashing it, would see it rendered useless, or “mission killed”, in military jargon. Nonetheless, Shield AI also says its technology can be used for finding non-hostile humans, especially in situations such as the aftermath of an earthquake.

The investment shows that both drone and AI tech are gaining in both popularity and seriousness. With venture capitalists taking it seriously enough to pour in several millions, this suggests the reams of marketing spiel across the drone an AI industries about how wonderful these inventions are might actually have a grain of truth to them.

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