Space pur­vey­ors

Fleet Space Tech­nolo­gies

Qantas - - Qbusiness -

Fleet Space Tech­nolo­gies is not so much blue-sky-think­ing a big-data idea as putting it into or­bit. The startup, founded in 2015 in Ade­laide by three space fanciers, in­clud­ing rocket sci­en­tist Flavia Tata Nar­dini, now has of­fices in the US and Europe. In April 2017, Fleet raised $5 mil­lion, at­tract­ing back­ing from Black­bird Ven­tures and At­las­sian’s Mike Can­non-Brookes. Fleet’s motto is “con­nect ev­ery­thing” and to do that it will build a net­work of nanosatel­lites pro­vid­ing af­ford­able global con­nec­tiv­ity for the In­ter­net of Things (IoT).

The first two Fleet satel­lites will launch in 2018. “Our goal is to de­ploy 100 nanosatel­lites, which are about as big as a shoe­box, to cre­ate a dig­i­tal ner­vous sys­tem all around us in space for the IoT,” says CEO Tata Nar­dini. Sen­sors are al­ready col­lect­ing data from all sorts of in­dus­trial as­sets, from a truck rum­bling through the desert to a wind tur­bine on a moun­tain range. But con­nect­ing these things, she ex­plains, “is not a job for 3G or 4G”. The goal is to con­nect “hun­dreds of mil­lions of de­vices, as­sets, live­stock… ev­ery­thing”.

Much of the planet – in­clud­ing de­vel­op­ing na­tions, re­mote re­gions and our vast oceans – has no con­nec­tiv­ity at all. Fleet will en­able “the small-data revo­lu­tion for the IoT” from the streams of data beam­ing from those con­tin­u­ously trans­mit­ting sen­sors. The nanosatel­lites will likely be launched off big satel­lites, pig­gy­back-style, but there are also com­pa­nies – such as New Zealand startup Rocket Lab – build­ing rock­ets to de­ploy nanosatel­lites, even of­fer­ing rideshare launches.

The nanosatel­lite con­cept, says Tata Nar­dini, was de­vel­oped in 1999 in the US. The CubeSats, as they’re called, weighed just over a kilo “but with all the fea­tures of a satel­lite that’s as big as a car”. While old-school satel­lites re­main large and enor­mously ex­pen­sive, uni­ver­si­ties have been us­ing nanosatel­lites for space re­search. “Nowa­days, you can buy these satel­lites off the shelf, just like a com­puter!” says Tata Nar­dini.

She be­lieves that by giv­ing con­nec­tiv­ity to data from the in­dus­trial world, Fleet can help un­lock unimag­ined ef­fi­cien­cies in sec­tors rang­ing from man­u­fac­tur­ing to min­ing, au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles to agri­cul­ture, lo­gis­tics to elec­tric­ity grids. “There’s so much waste in sup­ply chains,” she says, “that the only way to un­der­stand what we’re do­ing wrong is to mea­sure it.” It will be, she adds, a revo­lu­tion in mea­sur­ing ev­ery­thing.

Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, data an­a­lyt­ics and aug­mented re­al­ity will all play a role in the IoT and Tata Nar­dini agrees that “there’s a lot of fear around the changes”. Hu­mans, she says, are ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary “to im­ple­ment the changes and help make this world a bet­ter place. I see it as op­por­tu­nity, not [some­thing to] fear. But I’m in the mid­dle of the revo­lu­tion so I’m very pos­i­tive about it.”

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