Here's why Cisco Investments bets on innovative startups FEATURE
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Investing in the drone and virtual reality markets can mean key learnings about new ecosystems.

Cisco's recent investments in drone company Kespry and AR/VR startup Pixvana show that the company loves innovative businesses—but reasons for the company's interest go far beyond that. As Amit Chaturvedy, IoT and artificial intelligence lead at Cisco Investments says, "Our intent is to look at technologies around the corner and to drive learning from these investments which can help guide us in our own strategic moves."

Head of Cisco Investments Portfolio Development Hitesh Saijpal also says that Cisco Investments is the company's strategic ear to the market. With over 20 years in the technology investments game, he says Cisco is latching onto strategic areas.

See also: 5 things you didn't know about Cisco Investments

"Internet of Things is an example of that," says Saijpal, "We are early on the AI, machine learning bandwagon because we believe it has the potential to impact many businesses. It could impact security by impacting analytics. And it could certainly impact drones."

So what might the networking company do with drones?

The high-flying aerial experts at Kespry helped drones become mainstream technology in 2017, aiding in several rescue operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and Irma. The company provides drone-based artificial intelligence for areas like mining, insurance, aggregates, construction, and energy. Cisco announced its investment in Kespry in early January 2018.

Kespry's platform is an end-to-end solution with a flight planning and mapping software and analytics tools that can also generate business insights. These tools use AI and image analysis techniques to accomplish things like convert photos to 3D models. For example, someone in the mining industry can avoid climbing stockpiles by using drones to survey equipment and gather information like volume, cut, fill, tonnage, and more.

Chaturvedy finds there are a lot of applications that could be made for the enterprise.

"Kespry uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to do a lot of aerial intelligence," says Chaturvedy, "There's applicability for robotics, autonomous vehicles, smart machines. For our enterprise security business, AI will power the next-generation product portfolio. And from an enterprise network data perspective, AI is definitely impacting automation and self-learning networks."

The future for the drone industry is bright, with Cisco seeing applications like search and rescue, crop health assessment, pipeline inspection, and even being able to fly the drone past the pilot's line of sight.

Early January 2018 also marked the announcement of Cisco investing in AR/VR startup Pixvana, a company that provides solutions for publishing and playing 360 and VR video content.

In a recent blog, Cisco Investments Corporate Development Associate Ryan Petranovich writes that like drones, VR is gaining mainstream adoption and will truly prosper with the acceleration of VR head-mounted displays, cameras, software tools, and content. The advancements in AR/VR can also be developed in different Cisco technologies like video—including video's networking infrastructure, service provider video cloud technologies, and enterprise collaboration products.

Cisco's Emerge team is already working on collaboration tools based in VR. The team, who works on accelerating the future of work, unleashed Cisco Spark in VR—the company's messaging tool in a virtual reality room. When used with a headset, Spark in VR lets users interact with others as avatars. All of the files, whiteboards, participants and features in your Spark app is moved to the VR space.

See also: Focus: Startups and Investments

"We're looking at different ecosystems very closely, to see how Cisco can provide a very key technology like connectivity," says Chaturvedy, "AI and machine learning is like sugar in a cup of coffee, it blends in. Think of coffee as an ecosystem of drones or connected cars, and AI and machine learning as an underlying horizontal technology that blends in, dissolves, and makes the product more awesome. The view around AI and machine learning is broader than just the Internet of Things. If you look at collaboration, you're starting to see things like Alexa emerge for the enterprise."

Cisco Investments has its ear to the ground in terms of startups that could be the sugar to their coffee. General Managers, Business Units, and CEO Chuck Robbins have all come together to support and collaborate with the Investments team on their journey. As for the future, you can expect the team to focus on a handful of innovative spheres.

"This is journey we are on, and we're looking at many different categories," says Saijpal, "Connected cars, wearables, drones, and AI."

Photos are used with permission from Kespry.com

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About Stephanie Chan

Stephanie Ellen Chan is the Editorial and Video Producer at Cisco. She has a passion for writing about the intersection of culture, media, art, and technology.