Jan 31, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Exclusive: Lockheed invests in weather drones, forecasting

Illustration of a drone hauling a large temperature gauge by string.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Meteomatics, a weather intelligence and technology firm that makes a fleet of autonomous drones, has closed a strategic funding round from Lockheed Ventures, the companies tell Axios exclusively.

Driving the news: The new funding, totaling in the single-digit millions, is aimed at helping the Swiss-based company expand, and bring new weather and climate insights to business and government customers.

The big picture: Lockheed Ventures is the venture capital offshoot of Lockheed Martin, the mammoth aerospace and defense firm.

  • The overall fund totals about $400 million, investment manager Sam Stonberg said, and it often invests in early-stage companies.
  • He said the investment comes with access to the company's engineering and technology know-how and network of partnerships, potentially providing Meteomatics with ways to grow faster and in new ways.

Of note: Lockheed is already a major player in the weather sector, building an advanced series of GOES satellites.

Zoom in: Meteomatics has a growing U.S. presence. It uses an API to allow its hundreds of customers to tap into vast amounts of real-time computer model and observational data, including historical weather and climate information.

  • It is also known for using tiny "Meteodrones" to gather crucial weather data from the ground to about 20,000 feet in altitude.
  • These can pop up and down from a fixed surface station every 30 minutes, and the company sees these as flexible replacements for weather balloons the National Weather Service currently launches twice a day nationwide, among other applications.
  • The company operates a drone station alongside Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, Paul Walsh, CEO of Meteomatics North America, told Axios in an interview.
Photo of a drone flying above a layer of clouds against a darkened sky.
Meteodrones can reach altitudes of 20,000 feet. Photo: Meteomatics.

The intrigue: The company also stands out for its high-resolution weather model that is run down to the street level, which it claims is the only one of its kind being run on such a fine-scale, 1-kilometer grid every hour.

  • This high resolution enables its public and private sector customers, which include Tesla and Volkswagen — along with sports teams such as the Kansas City Royals — to anticipate weather phenomena as small as individual thunderstorms, the company states.
  • The firm hopes to grow business lines in areas that have growing needs for accurate weather information: energy, aviation, insurance and defense, among other areas.

Between the lines: The investment comes as the weather industry enters a transformative period that is providing new openings and challenges.

  • It is also making public-private partnerships more essential for agencies like the NWS to improve forecast accuracy.
  • For decades, only government-run centers using vast and costly supercomputers could produce reliable model aids for making forecasts.
  • Now, however, greater computing power is available to the masses at lower cost, and many research institutes and companies are taking advantage of artificial intelligence-driven techniques to guide their modeling.
  • The largest annual meeting of meteorologists is taking place in Baltimore this week, and it features a slew of AI-powered forecasting presentations and discussions.

Yes, but: According to Meteomatics global CEO and founder Martin Fengler, the company is evaluating where AI might provide added value for its customers.

  • "For the time being, we strongly believe in good old physics" to drive its modeling efforts, he told Axios.
  • He said AI has greater potential to add value in incorporating vast amounts of data into computer models, as well as processing it and generating insights for users.

What they're saying: "Meteomatics' weather intelligence has the potential to give the U.S. and its allies a better understanding of the dynamic environments in which assets and personnel operate, both improving operational effectiveness and reducing risk," said Chris Moran, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Ventures, in a statement.

Go deeper