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Looking back at Skyward: a major software company in the drone industry

28.03.2023

Mariah Scott, the former president of Skyward before operations shut down in 2022. She’s known for driving growth in new markets, and her time at Skyward was marked by innovative technologies in the B2B drone industry where she had extensive previous experience from her time in American, European and Asian markets. 

The reason for shutting down operations at Skyward came as a surprise to most stakeholders, and a representative only stated, “This decision is about market agility and ensuring that Verizon continues to focus on areas that provide both near and mid-term growth opportunities.” As president of Skyward, Mariah Scott has continued on as the President of Robotics Business Technology at Verizon once the business was officially shut down. 

About Skyward: 

The company was founded in 2012, by Jonathan Evans in Portland, Oregon. Their mission was to develop software for commercial drone operators and create a network that provides a way to manage drone information, digital logbooks, pilot credentials and real-time air charts. The company also had the mission of supporting customers as they navigated the changing regulatory landscape for UAVs. 

Skyward’s first seed round was for $4.1 million and included Verizon Group, which eventually acquired the company in 2017. The mission stayed the same as they continued to develop a global aerial robotics network that was accessible to everyone while developing an operations management platform for businesses to run these fleets. Jonathan Evans wrote, “Leading this company was a wonderful culmination of a life spent loving aviation, information technology, and an infatuation with what's possible. Starting this company has so far been the hardest and best thing yet in my career.”

Our interview with Mariah Scott, the former president of Skyward (December 2020)

During the interview with Mariah Scott, she mentioned how she had always loved technology and working with technology since she began her career at Intel, which lasted nearly 16 years. She told us how new innovations can open the way we view the world and the way we work.

That’s why, when she started to learn about the potential of commercial drones, she was fascinated by the upcoming transformative shift they could bring to our societies. That includes the way we access data, deliver packages and transport people. It was this potential that drew her into Skyward in October 2014 where she started as co-president. 

Since this step in her career, aviation has become a huge part of her life. She’s a licensed drone and paragliding pilot, and when we spoke to her, she was working on obtaining her private pilot license as well. She said that aviation literally offers a new perspective on the world, which is what makes working in the industry so incredibly rewarding. 

Skyward’s accomplishments: A former UTM software solution

Under Mariah Scott’s leadership as president, Skyward became a major software company in the drone industry that focused on supporting businesses safely and efficiently creating and deploying drone programmes through technology. The software helped organisations manage their flights and understand which areas were safe for airborne operations while ensuring that all pilots were trained correctly and followed current regulations. 

Skyward was even able to perform BVLOS operations in certain instances, like during the 2020 wildfires that were destroying parts of the United States. They applied to the FAA for a special emergency waiver to conduct inspections of their critical infrastructure during the fire, and their appeal was granted. Employees were able to conduct BVLOS drone inspections from their homes, which were thousands of kilometres away from the location. This was also the perfect time since the global pandemic was still forcing people to work from home.

This was a major accomplishment for the drone industry as well, as operators were able to provide evidence of successful BVLOS operations during a natural disaster scenario. In February 2023, Verizon representatives also participated in an interview with Air Traffic Management and mentioned that they currently still have a fleet of Part 107 compliant drones that can be deployed during crisis situations like hurricane Ian in September 2022, which happened shortly after the closure of Skyward. 

Uncrewed traffic management (UTM) software

Mariah Scott told us that uncrewed traffic management is a bit of a holy grail for software companies, which have been chasing this goal for a number of years. She also explained how cellular networks were really going to establish the future of the UTM systems in the upcoming future, and Skyward was even able to achieve some of the required milestones for this goal while they were operational. 

The team was able to work with customers like Southern Company, the second largest energy company in the United States, to help support their tower inspection operations with drones. The goal of the project was to provide safety inspectors with an alternative opinion for inspections and prevent them from needing to repeatedly climb dangerous heights. At the time of this collaboration, Southern Company was “responsible for operating nearly 200,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines and more than 80,000 miles of natural gas pipeline.”

The goal that Skyward also pursued was to build the first step towards the much bigger mission of creating a connected drone ecosystem to enable ongoing operational uncrewed traffic management at scale. While they were operating, Mariah Scott told us that they were collaborating heavily with UTM companies and drone manufacturing companies, which is why they eventually signed a collaboration agreement with Parrot, which is a commercial drone manufacturer. They ended up developing several drones together that operated on the Verizon mobile network. 

For those who looked at Skyward as a shining example of what the industry can accomplish, it’s important to note that all innovation takes time to catch on. There are no fast-track methods to change society, and it will also take a shift in regulations and the mentalities of our communities before drones are widely accepted. 

We’d like to end this article with a few questions to our fellow drone enthusiasts: Why would Verizon purchase a growing drone organisation only to shut it down with little to no warning? What could have been done differently in this situation? And, do you think it was the right choice?

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