That’s why, when Founder and CEO Christian Sanz talks about Skycatch, he talks less about the drones Skycatch deploys, and more about the problems being solved by the computer-vision and 3D-mapping software they carry. In industries such as mining and construction, Skycatch’s ability to collect and process real-time data using software – from previously hard-to-reach corners of construction and mining sites – is helping drive what’s being called the fourth Industrial Revolution.
To date, traditional surveying processes for mining and construction sites have had physical and temporal limits. Terrestrial scanners can only survey as far as the eye can see and as far as a pickup truck can carry them. Aircrafts require human operators. Neither method facilitates the data collection and instant analysis that Skycatch provides; data collected without Skycatch can take weeks or months to process and become available, by which time current conditions will likely have changed.
Skycatch’s solution offers 3D reconstruction, post-survey processing, and analytics – practically in real time. Users deploy the software to plan and launch unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drone flights to collect data from aloft, process that data in an in-field edge base station even if there’s no internet available, and then interact and edit the data from multiple platforms, as well as share it. 3D outputs are accurate within a five centimeter range and in all axes. “That’s something that took years to automate and get to a repeatable state, so users can deploy at scale without the need for human intervention,” notes Sanz.
This unique capability positions it to generate huge gains in efficiency, cost-savings and profits within a very large market: the number of active mines and construction sites across the globe is constantly in flux, but the world’s 40 leading mining companies approached $700B in revenue in 2019, and the global construction market is expected to land at around $13B this year. Since it was founded in 2013, when Bee Partners wrote the company its first check, Skycatch’s solution has been deployed to tens of thousands of sites in 26 countries. Sanz recently sat down with us to talk about this growth and share what’s next for the company.
There’s been much hype around a future with drones swarming overhead. What does the general public not know about the coming reality?
What the public doesn’t know is the shift that we predicted: As you make this data more accessible and the collection of it more frequent, the biggest friction point is that humans and other systems simply aren’t able to keep up with analyzing the sheer volume of data that comes from these machines. One example, in mining: All the workflows and steps of extracting the information from the physical world are catered towards data that is, for example, available every month. But we can now reduce that manual process to 30 to 60 minutes. Other functions, so far, cannot happen at the same pace, so you’re not able to rely on some of the information right away. The opportunity is to improve those other processes. There are hundreds of these opportunities in mining alone, where we have to get humans caught up to the information we can deliver. This is where our data science efforts are going to play a big role.
Beyond that is the fidelity of the data. Not only is it more affordable and easier to access the data, as well as far more automated, but you can bring back higher fidelity information from any corner of the world. This has a direct impact on fast and safe decision making.
You’ve had a deliberate focus on industrial applications. Why do you think drone use is poised to proliferate now?
The time for drone-enabled software proliferation is now, in part because the silver lining of 2020 is that companies became far more aware of how important data and automation are. What the industrial space cares about most is trust in the data, but ultimately humans are not seeking to load a desktop application and do a hundred clicks before they get that data, though that’s the world we live in today. Aboard drones, we’re able to automate the creation of the physical world in high precision. Most tools are built based on data from photo-imaging tools that may take weeks or days to generate. And they’ve built all the analytics on top of that. We believed the data needed to be fresh in order to capture true information in the physical world. The drone is just the vehicle to go get that data.
What has surprised you the most about the use cases your customers are calling for?
I know a lot more about mining than I ever thought I would five years ago! I understand it, the economics behind it, the methods, and the processes the minerals go through. One of the areas that was completely unknown to us in the past is the management of toxic waste. Tailings are the waste left over once the ore has been extracted. Tailings dams are very dangerous. There have been multiple collapses in recent years. When you start going deep into how that could have been prevented, it seems nearly impossible because the ways of surveying are very old and inefficient and it’s dangerous to send people in. And there is limited data on these tailings. When you talk to the mining operators you can hear it in their voices that they’re not getting enough visibility, so they’re guessing at the size and volume. You can hear the desperation. That’s a new market that we’re getting into. Surveying wet land is difficult, but it’s an area of innovation we’re very interested in. We get intimate with very hard-to-solve problems. Doing spot inspections and analyzing it with machine-learning at scale with thousands of images and measurements of volumes of water – these are entirely new things we’re solving for.
About Bee Partners
Founded in 2009, Bee Partners is a pre-Seed venture capital firm that partners with revolutionary Founders working at the forefront of human-machine convergence across technologies that include robotics, AI, voice, i4.0, and synthetic biology. The firm leverages a singular approach to detecting new and emerging patterns of business as well as inside access to fertile but often overlooked entrepreneurial ecosystems to identify early opportunity in large, untapped markets. Bee’s portfolio companies consistently realize growth at levels that outstrip industry averages and secure follow-on capital from the world's top VCs.