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
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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