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Xtend, a controversial drone corporation, invests $40 million in defence.

About ten years ago, brothers Aviv and Matteo Shapira co-founded Replay, a business that developed a video format for 360-degree replays, the kind of replays that are now a staple of big sports broadcasts.

Intel became interested in Replay and paid a reported $175 million for the business in 2016. Replay also brought Aviv and Matteo into the path of Rubi Liani, the creator of the official drone racing league in Israel (FRIL).

Liani introduced the brothers to drone racing and sowed the germ of their next venture, Xtend, which he assisted in founding.

“As founders, we saw an opportunity to close the gap between our experiences,” Aviv said in an interview with Forbes. “We understood that controlling sophisticated robots—especially drones—required extraordinary talents. Our goal was to develop technologies that would allow people to use these robots simply and easily, much like they do with cellphones, without requiring a lot of technical expertise.

Through its platform, Xtend enables operators to control robots and drones created both internally by the company and by outside suppliers. Operators have the option to train AI models for drones, which can identify objects and assist in indoor and outdoor navigation, or they can directly control drones and robots through Xtend’s platform, possibly using a VR headset. The business today disclosed a $40 million investment round, with Chartered Group leading the deal, valued at around $110 million post-money.

“Our platform allows robots and drones to perform particular jobs on their own, such as entering buildings and scanning floors,” Aviv added. “Critically, it keeps human supervisors in charge of making ‘common sense’ decisions, such as assessing situations or adjusting to unanticipated circumstances.”

With Xtend, operators can manage groups of drones and robots rather than individual devices and have them do certain jobs on their own, such as navigating from point to point. While all of this is going on, Xtend looks at historical deployment data to suggest things an operator may do.

Xtend Wolverine drone
Image Credits: Xtend

“Xos enables a single supervisor to manage a team of robots doing jobs at different locations at the same time,” Aviv added. “We think that total autonomy is more of a subset of capabilities than the ultimate goal.”

Targeting clients across sectors from logistics to public safety, Xtend markets their technology as general-purpose. Nonetheless, the business focuses primarily on applications for law enforcement, the military, and defence.

Xtend has contracts with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the U.S. Department of Defense to “develop and deliver its systems,” including drone interceptor systems, for “operational evaluation.” One such contract is for $9 million with the Pentagon’s irregular warfare division. And Aviv isn’t bashful about the company’s plans to expand into what he refers to as “new civil market opportunities,” including public and private security.

Imagine a police officer organizing drones to look for a criminal across a wide region, Aviv said. Xos empowers these experts to leverage robotic assistance.

This could be problematic because, as Al Jazeera reports, in 2020, Congressional Democrats expressed concern that the administration of then-President Donald Trump had used drones and spy planes to monitor protests in Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. Regulations are still mainly lacking for law enforcement purposes.

International monitors have also recently focused on Xtend.

Statewatch and Informationsstelle Militarisierung (IMI) conducted an investigation and found that Xtend, along with other Israeli military companies and institutions involved in drone deployment, received an R&D grant from the EU’s Horizon Europe fund, despite EU funding restrictions for military and defence projects.

In the present conflict between Israel and Hamas, Aviv has adopted a fervently pro-Israeli position, informing Ctech that Xtend has “redirected energies to supporting the IDF 100%.” On its website, which includes endorsements from Israeli soldiers in Gaza, Xtend claims that technology allows “soldiers to perform accurate manoeuvres in complex combat scenarios.

Xtend has been collaborating with the IDF for some time, as Aviv stated in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, starting with the removal of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip. Since then, the IDF has sent its drones on reconnaissance flights carrying explosive payloads like grenades and has used them to map and spy out underground tunnels that Hamas has excavated in Gaza.

Despite its controversy, the tactic seems to be working for Xtend. Across its client base of “over 50” organisations, including government defence departments, the business claims to have secured $50 million in contracts to date.

“In complicated situations like first response, search and rescue, and vital infrastructure inspection, we’re revealing the real potential of robotics,” Aviv added. We have already operationally deployed hundreds of Xtend drone and robotics systems globally, and we are constantly improving Xos and those platforms to shape the future of human-machine teaming.

With the additional investment, Xtend has received a total of $65 million. By the end of the year, it intends to double the size of its 110-person staff in the United States, Israel, and Singapore as it transitions to a hybrid platform-as-a-service and software-as-a-service sales strategy. Worldwide growth is on the agenda, with Japan being the main focus.

Juliet P.
Author: Juliet P.

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