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Picogrid scores new funding to connect the military’s stovepipe systems
March 28, 2024

Picogrid scores new funding to connect the military’s stovepipe systems

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Autonomous systems have become essential to military operations around the world, but there’s almost no infrastructure available to unify these systems at scale. As a result, operators in the field are often limited to a one-to-one relationship with a single system at a time. Picogrid wants to change that by building a platform that can integrate everything from sensors and cameras, to drones, weapons systems and robotics.

‘This problem is really innate to how the military operates today,’ Picogrid co-founder and CEO Zane Mountcastle explained.

Part of the problem is simple inefficiency: If a soldier only has access to, say, an infrared long-range camera, they might be able to spot a target on the front lines but be unable to do anything about it. The question then becomes one of transforming stovepipe, standalone systems into an integrated network that can be leveraged however the end user needs.

Mountcastle intimately understands the problem: He witnessed many of these issues firsthand at his previous venture, a defense services company called Mission Mule, which he co-founded in 2018. Working alongside members of the military, he built field sensors and autonomous systems and deployed them at military bases across the U.S.

‘To see how difficult it was to field these systems into real operations was really, really shocking to me,’ he said. ‘I spent weeks at a time with these folks beating around the desert in 4×4 [vehicles], doing these different projects, and I pressed them the entire time with, why don’t you make your life easier? Why don’t you do something? A lot of it seemed like very low-hanging fruit to me. I kept getting the same response or over and over, which is, ‘We don’t have access to that.”

He and his co-founder, Martin Slosarik, are aiming to change that with Picogrid. The four-year-old startup has developed a suite of hardware and software aimed at integrating the archipelago of devices that have become essential to everything from protecting soldiers on the battlefield to safeguarding critical infrastructure. The core of Picogrid’s technology is a cloud-based API called Legion, a middleware solution that is used to pull data from many discrete, third-party systems, as well as two hardware products, Lander and Helios.

Lander is designed for long-duration, stationary operations and missions, while Helios is optimized for mobility, like a frontline. The hardware isn’t an extraneous add-on to the software stack; it’s part of how Picogrid aims to put Legion into the hands of end users. Both platforms are designed to provide power, communications and compute for the startup’s growing list of sensor integrations.

To help scale their vision, the company just closed a $12 million seed round led by Initialized Capital with participation by Starburst Ventures, Credo Ventures, Giant Step Capital, Domino Ventures and Alumni Ventures.

‘It’s really a matter of multiplying the effectiveness of every individual soldier by giving them access to very large fleets of systems of whatever type they need for that specific job,’ Mountcastle said.

Picogrid has scored over a dozen federal contracts and currently has over forty hardware installations across six military bases U.S., as well as installations in Ukraine. The company will be deploying installations at a seventh and eighth military base in the next few weeks. The startup has a few small contracts outside the military, in the wildfire and utility space, but it’s mostly focused on military applications.

As the funding round indicates, Picogrid is planning big things for 2024. That includes opening a second manufacturing facility in Oklahoma and building out additional hardware platforms. Significantly, the company is also planning on taking the Legion platform and opening it up for developers to build on. To date, Picogrid has been building integrations in-house. But Mountcastle said the team realized that for the system to scale, they would need to give full access to third parties to build into it.

‘You can probably imagine how that would make a lot of people military uncomfortable because it’s never really been done,’ he said.

Indeed, that is far from the status quo in the defense industry, which is typically wary of open systems from both a cybersecurity standpoint and a reliability standpoint. But Mountcastle said much of the new seed funding will go toward ensuring that Legion remains secure, even as it opens up.

Providing access to third parties could also help solve another pervasive problem in the defense industry: transitioning technology developed by startups or small businesses into the hands of end users. With Picogrid’s system, even small experimental systems can be tested out in real operations, he said.

Even in the four short years that Picogrid has been around, Mountcastle said he’s seen a ‘narrative shift’ in how people thought about defense tech.

‘That’s what’s really, really exciting about this defense technology landscape today that even a couple years ago wasn’t there. I’ve lived through that. People would say oh, you’re in defense, why would you do that? That’s stupid, go sell enterprise,’ he said. ‘To see that narrative shift and see the industry change has been really heartening for me, because I understand how bad it is from the inside and understand how much need there is for a whole bunch of other companies in this space to be born.’

Correction: The article originally stated that Picogrid had six installations across the U.S., with plans to deploy in Ukraine in the coming weeks. The story has been updated to reflect that Picogrid has over forty hardware installations at six military bases, in addition to already being deployed in Ukraine. 


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