Flyability safe drones for indoors operation
Please introduce yourself and your Flyability to our readers!
Flyability is a Swiss company building safe drones for indoors operation, in complex and confined spaces, and in contact with people.By allowing drones to be used safely inside cities, inside buildings, and in contact with people, we enable new interactions and services with UAVs, solving the two most critical issues of one of the fastest growing industries: damage and injury risks associated with collisions. Flyability is focusing on industrial inspection of hard-to-access infrastructures in the energy industries and civil security.
How did you get the idea to Flyability?
Mobile robots are offering an amazing cost and time saving opportunity for routine work and may spare human lives in dangerous tasks such as the rescue of victims after disasters, or the inspection of inaccessible infrastructure. However, current solutions are not robust enough to be reliably used in environments cluttered with obstacles: wheeledrobots tend to get stuck by the clutter and can only reach places close to the ground, and flying robots crash easily upon contact with obstacles and are dangerous to operate close to humans.
Flyability’s vision is to mimic the behavior of insects, like flies, which easily recover after encountering an obstacle by bouncing and continuing flying undisturbed to solve this issue. Flyability thus developed Elios, the world’s first collision-tolerant flying robot capable of remaining stable after collisions, allowing a robust and easy access to places out of reach of current technologies, and without the need for complex and error-prone obstacle sensing and avoidance techniques.
The innovation of Elios lies in the patented mechanical design and flight control algorithms developed during 5 years of research at EPFL before the founding of the company. This technology based on robustness and simplicity is the first commercially available answer to the most important issue in the growing field of flying robotics, unleashing their potential for industrial inspection, the company’s main target market, but also for search and rescue and security missions, which typically involve sending robots inside complex or cluttered environments.
How difficult was the start and what challenges you had to overcome?
It all started with the publication of videos from the research prototypebuild during Adrien’s PhD thesis at EPFL. We received a lot of traction from customers with needs fitting the product. We started working with early adopters to test the prototype on the field and scope the product features. We quickly faced the need for more people to join the team and started hiring a small team of engineers only 6 month after the first trials. Since then, the company as grown up to 30 people in less than 2 years!
It takes much more time than people typically plan to build a robust and reliable productand one of the biggest challenge we met was the transition from prototype to product which represent a huge amount of work and requires a lot of capital and people. In addition, we are building a product for a market that is still shaping. That requires to move fast and with agility.
Who is your target audience?
Currently, our focus is set on Energy, Oil & Gas, Search & Rescue, Maritime and Chemical Industry. Elios is the only drone able to fly safely in confined and cluttered spaces providing instant visual feedback, in various lighting conditions, and with the ability to take close-up pictures while being directly in contact with structures. This is extremely beneficial to our target markets where there is a recurrent need for industrial visual inspection. We are also partnering with drone companies, specialized in providing inspection services and lately, we are receiving many requests from police forces all around the world. Finally, we are evaluating our capabilities when it comes to underground mining and security, which involves working with firefighters and police forces.
What is the USP of your startup?
Elios is the world-first collision-tolerant drone. In short it means it can bounce off obstacles without losing its ability to fly. Unlike other drones it does not try to avoid obstacles but rather use them to find its way. This particularity makes it the only drone able to fly safely nearby humans and efficiently in confined and cluttered spaces. Additionally,Elios carries two cameras: an HD camera and an infrared camera allowing Elios to capture images and visual data in all lighting conditions.
Can you describe a typical workday of you?
Like in any company we come to officein the morning (more or less early), have a coffee, exchange on the latest issues and pressing points and then everybody gets to work. Lunch is usually shared and it is a great moment to update everyone on the company’s progress while building team spirit. Monday is Pizza day and Wednesday is Pasta day, homemade by all the team in turns. In the afternoon the engineering department shares its time between improvements on Elios and the development of our new products, while the Sales & Marketing department answers the many requests coming from prospects, customers and media. When the two departments meet we start to shed a light on the future of the company, planning on product’s enhancement and products to come. We also spend a lot of time on the field, from refineries to power plants and tanker ships, this is the best place to learn more on how customers use our drone and what the future developments should be.
Where do you see yourself and your startup in five years?
We aim at becoming the leader in flying robotics for complex environments, and be at the forefront of innovation to continuously deliver value, safety and fun to our customers. We will continuously develop robust, collision-tolerant drones for the professional drone market integrating the latest technologies. After reaching the first couple hundred of robots sold, our objectives are to expand our target market to new industries, and why not broaden the scope with a consumer product made for everyone!
What 3 tips would you give other Start-up founders on the way?
We are only 2 years old, and while we have leant a ton, we don’t feel very legitimate to be giving out advice; but here are a few thoughts:
1) The key to success is in the right balance: for instancethe balance between launching a product too early (it is not reliable enough) or too late (competition will already be there), between focusing on the day-to-day business (you tend to forget the big picture) and the long-term vision (if you don’t execute the daily business, there is no long-term for you).
2) People are key to the success of the business, chose your early employees and your co-founders with a great care, you will spend a lot of time with them and it is one of the major failure factors for early startups!
3) Be agile, question you ways. We like to define a startup as a company which is looking for its route to profitability, which means that you have to continuously test new things, fail, adjust and repeat!
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