Japan's Terra Drone gets $14M lift from Saudi investors

Terra Drone said today it has raised $14 million in Series C funding from Wa'ed Ventures, the venture capital arm of Saudi Aramco, marking the VC firm's first investment in Asia.

The Japan-headquartered company, which builds drone software, hardware and uncrewed aircraft traffic management software, said the new capital brings its total raised to $97 million since its inception in 2016. It declined to comment on its post-money valuation. According to sources familiar with the situation, the startup was valued at more than $200 million in March last year when Terra Drone closed a $70 million Series B.

The move comes in line with Saudi Arabia's "Vision 2030" plan, which lays out goals to reduce the nation's dependence on hydrocarbons and promote the use of drones in services. For example, fossil fuel companies in Saudi Arabia will utilize Terra Drone's technology for inspection services. Drones are supposed to detect things like oil leakage. Saudi Aramco is the world's largest oil producer and plans to increase fossil fuel production in coming years despite scientific consensus that such activities are wrecking the Earth's climate.

Terra Drone director Teppei Seki told TechCrunch that the startup participated in a drone program run by Saudi Aramco held last year for Saudi Vision 2030.

With the latest funding, Terra Drone plans to set up a new subsidiary, Terra Drone Arabia, wholly owned by Terra Drone, and further promote drone inspections in the region. On top of that, the company plans further international penetration in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) through the new office in Saudi Arabia.

Terra Drone currently offers its drone and UAM solutions to 10 countries. Denmark uses Terra Drone's uncrewed aircraft traffic management (UTM) in Danish health drones and its Health Drone Project to carry blood and medicine. Terra Drone's UT drone for inspection is certified as a ship inspection by the International Register of Shipping, the Japan-based startup said. Terra Drone-owned Unifly, a UTM provider, also has a presence in Europe and North America.

Since its last fundraising, its subsidiaries' sales have grown by more than 50%, the company said.

CEO of Terra Drone Toru Tokushige founded Terra Drone in 2016 to develop drone software like global air traffic management to prevent collisions by enabling safe and efficient drone and urban air mobility operations.

"Supported by the global track record of Terra Drone, our investment represents a compelling attempt at building the UAM ecosystem in the Kingdom, one that circles a sustainable economy," said managing director at Wa'ed Ventures Fahad Alidi. "We foresee rapid adoption for UAM technology as an emerging tech vertical in the region, and Terra Drone is well-positioned to localize their innovation across the region, starting with the Kingdom."

Note: The original version of this article has been updated to include that Unifly has a presence in Europe and North America.