Fleet Space Technologies
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.”