While we’ve covered CES in the past, this year’s virtual event promises to be like no other. The all-digital event is set to connect the broader tech community in order to launch products and build brands, some of which will be applicable to the commercial drone industry. One of those is Tinamu Labs, a VC-backed Swiss startup that has developed a turnkey solution for drone-based inspection automation inside of spacious infrastructures.

Tinamu replaces large static sensor networks that consist of numerous fixed cameras with one flying sensor. Their drone-based inspection automation solution consists of a dashboard that visualizes relevant information, analytics software running on a secured cloud, and the drone system connected to a communication network. Their commercial drone use cases detail how the technology is being used for conveyor belt inspections, in warehouses and for infrastructure inspections.

In an effort to learn more about commercial drone solutions that will be showcased at CES 2021, we caught up with Tobias Nägeli, CEO and co-founder and David Lanter, CFO and co-founder. We talked about how they recognized the potential of these applications, how they’ve seen their solution make a difference, what advice they’d have for potential users and much more.  

Jeremiah Karpowicz: When and how did you recognize the potential of using drones as a 24/7 flexible sensor?

Tobias Nägeli and David Lanter: In conversations with potential clients, we have realized that drones have the unique capability to act as flexible sensors in order to deliver real-time insights to asset owners. Thus, they can gather more consistent data and reduce monitoring costs while no human inspector is exposed to hazardous environments. 

How have your conversations around the potential of drone solutions changed and evolved? What sorts of questions are potential customers asking now versus what they might have asked a year ago? 

They started with the ad-hoc inspection of points-of-interest that have to be monitored on a regular basis. However, we quickly realized that a 24/7 indoor monitoring solution with automated data analytics provided an array of new opportunities for asset owners.

As these discussions have evolved, we have been able to prove the capability of pilot-less precision flights in spacious infrastructures. The conversations with customers are now really around how to maximize the impact of the automated cloud-based data analytics. 

Are you specifically focused on certain regions or sectors? Where and how have you seen your solutions make a real difference?

We strongly focus on large-scale industries operating spacious assets such as production facilities, conveyor belts, and inventory warehouses. With our functional prototype, we target the European market (particularly German-speaking Europe) in order to deploy proof-of-concepts.

Having the MVP launch coming closer in 2021, we now started to interact with global customers allowing us to scale. CES 2021 is an ideal platform to connect with such international customers.

Your use cases detail how your solutions are being used for conveyor belt inspections, in warehouses and for infrastructure inspection. Do all of these commercial applications have anything in common?

All these commercial applications are in huge, repetitive structures creating a challenging environment. For instance, the drone operations have to take place indoors where no GPS is available and the environment is highly dynamic with workers and materials moving around. In addition, all these segments are strongly affected by maintenance-induced downtimes resulting in substantial economic losses.

Your Axpo case study is particularly enlightening. How were they able to quantify the bottom-line difference associated with more effective and predictive maintenance?

Axpo, the largest producer of renewable energy in Switzerland, operates dozens of very large energy production plants which are located in the alps. As they need to perform thorough inspections of their facilities on a weekly basis, they were intrigued by the potential of remote inspections very early on. During a proof of concept, Axpo and we have evaluated the feasibility of such a system and have also performed a cost benefit analysis, comparing our solution with their current workflows. Besides the direct financial benefits, we were also able to demonstrate enhanced safety and compliance.

The City of Zurich will be able to monitor hard to access structures more frequently thanks to your solution. Does doing so resolve issues before they turn into actual problems? What lessons can these companies and others gather from such applications when it comes to the scalability of your solution? 

Detecting early signs of corrosion for instance has indeed had a significant impact on repair cost and downtime can be avoided.

With these two different use cases, we can demonstrate the potential of automated monitoring workflows. Seeing the pains in different industries helps us to sharpen the product vision and its scalability, as we focus on the key features needed across many industries. 

What can you say about how your drone-based analytics platform increases monitoring productivity? Where and how is that productivity measured?

While talking to customers, we realized that our drone-based analytics platform has two key benefits regarding productivity; First, costs are reduced since pilotless drones are cheaper for data acquisition than a team of experts inspecting remote infrastructures.

Secondly, we create better insights as the gathered data is more accurate and can be obtained significantly more often than before. The combination of these two aspects results in minimizing revenue losses experienced through missing inventories, operational downtimes, or capital-intensive maintenance work. 

Your website mentions that your solution allows non-drone experts to harness the power of drones. What kind of a learning curve is there to get up and running with your solution?

Our technology allows us to completely detach the client and operator from the drone. The user only triggers the desired actions on a web dashboard from anywhere in the world. The automated drone then performs the inspection independently. 

What makes your product distinct from some of the other commercial drone solutions?

We offer a consistent data acquisition leveraging the potential of automated and safe drone operations. Furthermore, our indoor position system enables the deployment inside of spacious infrastructures such as water dams, tunnels, etc.

If someone thinks your solution might be a fit for their inspection or warehouse needs, what advice would you have for them about taking the next step?

As a first step, you should review your internal inspection processes and on what frequency they have to be performed.

If they have to be performed on a weekly or even daily basis by a single or several human operators in spacious or hard-to-access locations, drone-based workflow automation might be a highly efficient and effective solution.

In case you recognize that your company or your team has these issues, we are happy to evaluate the feasibility of implementing our solution and provide you with more information.