10 drone and robot start-ups move onto Qualcomm campus for the summer

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Crack open a consumer drone today and you’ll most likely find radio antennae, a camera and sensors all packed separately into the machine, wasting weight and energy.

Smartphones became lighter and more powerful as their components grew more interconnected, and chipmaker Qualcomm wants to bring the same miniaturization and integration to the emerging arena of affordable drones and robots. To get a better idea of what robotics chipsets should look like, Qualcomm has brought 10 start-ups to its San Diego headquarters for the summer.

“Our goal is to kickstart the next wave of innovation by removing points of resistance,” said Houman Haghighi, who’s leading the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator. It’s a collaboration between Qualcomm and a start-up mentorship program called Techstars. Qualcomm plans to invest more than $100,000 in each of the 10 start-ups.


The start-ups also receive access to the company’s products and experts while Qualcomm gets a deep view into the capabilities sought in its next-generation products. Walt Disney Co. and the Los Angeles Dodgers have launched similar start-up programs.

Qualcomm’s crew is housed at its campus on a floor converted from dull office space into something more like an open-format environment.

Inside, two companies are building drones -- Inova Drone is working on hard-core models for law enforcement; Skyfront is focused on long-range flyers. SkySense, another start-up, is building drone charging stations.

Two companies’ robots move items -- Ctrl Works through a computerized dolly and Carbon Robotics through a motorized arm. Cleverpet’s robots exercise the brains of pets by challenging them constantly to learn which buttons to press to get a treat. Reach Robotics creations are built to fight each other. Sky Robotics wants to speed up robot development with new software designs and Rational Robotics wants to help paint them with its robots. Solenica is making a solar-powered light that tracks the sun around the house to maximize its charge.

Qualcomm evaluated applications from 40 different countries to settle on the 10. They’ll showcase their accomplishments in the program to investors Sept. 10.

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