Latvian drone startup Aerones has announced a $1.6 million seed investment and a whole new direction for the business: the funding will go toward a ground-based robotics system for wind turbine maintenance and inspection. The round was backed by Change Ventures, YCombinator and the Sensum Group, as well as angels Paul Buchheit and Janis Krums.

The new ground-based system is based on a patented technology, wherein a computerised winch allows a robotic arm to perform many tasks, such as close-up photography, laser scanning, lightning conductivity tests, blade cleaning, and coating protective materials.

“Technicians who would otherwise hang hundreds of meters in the air manually working on each turbine blade, where safety concerns and weather limit operations, can now operate these inspection and maintenance services from the safety of a van, with controls that are as easy to use as a kid’s gaming console,” says Janis Putrams, the startup’s CEO.

Based in Riga, the Baltic business previously developed heavy-lift industrial drones, participating in YCombinator W18, finishing in the top three of Slush’s 100 Pitch Competition in 2018, and securing €2.7 million in funding just last August.

“In Aerones we see a company that has spent the last two years understanding in detail the challenges faced by the wind energy industry,” says Andris K. Berzins, managing partner of Change Ventures. “Using these insights, they re-invented their initial drone technology to tailor a robot & winch system that is so elegant that it will take the industry by storm.”

Some Aerones robots are already deployed in the US and Europe after completing successful pilots last year. The fresh funding will help increase commercial adoption and expand the company into the US.

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