Cisco's John Chambers toying with drones in "retirement"

Cisco executive chair John Chambers invests in drone company Airware, joins board of directors

Cisco's John Chambers playing with drones in retirement
Credit: Stephen Lawson/IDG News Service
airware drone Airware

Drone inspecting a cell tower

News from startup Airware that it has begun offering full-blown drone packages to enterprises such as insurance company State Farm is indeed interesting, but for the purposes of our Network World audience, this is even more intriguing: retired Cisco CEO John Chambers (now executive chairman) is one of the company's new investors.

Airware said it has raised $30M in fresh Series C funding, including from Chambers, who now joins the company's board of directors and is helping to guide the young drone maker's enterprise sales efforts. Chambers, whose compensation from Cisco totaled $16.5 million in 2014, clearly has a few extra pennies available for investments like this. Airware to date has raised about $70 million.

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“Digitization and the associated business model evolution is occurring rapidly across every industry," Chambers said in a statement. "The commercial drone industry is poised to throw many markets into transition. Airware has a great CEO who is scaling remarkably fast, a strong management team and a value-added market proposition. I believe Jonathan [Downey] and the Airware team are positioned to lead, and it’s an honor to be a part of their team.”

It's not as if drones are a stretch for a Cisco-ite. Drones were even showcased at its Cisco Live event last year.

While we couldn't get Cisco to talk with us about drones a year-and-a-half ago when we were surveying enterprise IT companies on the topic, Cisco has been opening up in recent months.

Cisco's Biren Gandhi, distinguished engineer & strategist for the corporate strategic innovation group, has been blogging about drones. He justified speaking on a panel about drones at a NASA event last summer, noting that drones are another component of the Internet of Everything that Cisco loves to talk about. "[D]rones represent important, mobile, data-rich nodes on the network," he wrote. Cisco has demonstrated using camera-outfitted drones to share expertise remotely via WebEx and TelePresence offerings. And earlier this year, Gandhi blogged about speaking at a robotics and drone event during which he expanded on the potential of drones to accelerate digital transformation.

Cisco kicked off the year purchasing an IoT company called Jasper for $1.4 billion. Don't be surprised if the company, which announced 11 buyouts last year and has already snapped up 4 companies in 2016, adds a drone business or two to its portfolio before long.

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