Visions of the future tend to be clear-cut. Cars will drive themselves. Air taxis will fill the skies. Smartphones . The renderings and trend reports tend to elide the messy road map to that future. Yes, advances in lightweight materials, electric propulsion, and aeronautic controls have put the dream of electric people-packing quadcopter drones within reach. A few more years of development, a few more after that of regulatory wrangling, and boom: takeoff.

But while an armada of companies are working on delivering that new class of aircraft, one California startup isn't waiting for the invention of the hydraulic shovel to get in on this gold rush. It's headed into the mines, pickax in hand.

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