Fleet Startup Signs First Pilot Partners
Adelaide-based startup Fleet has signed its first set of pilot partners in Australia, South America, Europe and the United States, said the company’s CEO and cofounder Flavia Tata Nardini. Fleet, which closed its AU$5 million ($3.7 million) Series A funding round last month, plans to launch in 2018 the first of what will eventually be a constellation of more than 100 nanosatellites, geared toward the Internet of Things (IoT) market.
Analysts have continued to bump up their growth estimates for IoT, with Research & Markets now predicting an ecosystem of more than 100 billion devices connected to the internet by 2025. With its future constellation, Fleet hopes to provide the “digital nervous system” that will connect these devices on a global scale.
“The world around us is changing; our population is growing at a rapid rate and the Earth we live on is under threat. We face a number issues that need urgent attention, such as food supply and access to clean water. In order for us to feed and accommodate our future population, we need to make huge changes to the way businesses operate. We believe that the best and most cost effective way to provide these efficiencies is from space,” Nardini said in an interview with Via Satellite.
Nardini sees use cases for the company’s network in a range of market niches, including agriculture, logistics, mining, and oil and gas. “The constellation will enable these industries and communities to use sensors to track and manage their resources better, increasing operational efficiencies and insights,” she said.
Although Fleet is still finalizing the details of its business model, Nardini noted that the network will be free to use but that customers will have to purchase “sensors or enablers” to connect their devices to the satellites. “We are still working out what this will look like to ensure it works best for the industries we’re targeting,” she said. “Wide-scale adoption of Fleet-enabled sensors and devices is crucial. In other words, yes there will be some, albeit small, ground infrastructure that accompanies the satellites. This is for the benefit of the user however, to ensure the network is wide reaching and all-encompassing.”
At the moment, the company is using the funds from its Series A round to cover initial costs for manufacturing, licensing and deployment so that it is able to meet its 2018 mile marker. “We’re also hiring to make sure we have the best team onboard to help push everything forward at the rate we want to,” she added.
Two of the biggest question marks surrounding new constellations in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) are spectrum allocation and concerns about space debris. Fortunately, Nardini said the company has faced little resistance from regulators in moving its vision forward. As for the space junk, the company is designing its nanosatellites to deorbit on their own at the end of their ten-year lifespans. “We want our shoebox-sized satellites to facilitate change for good without creating issues for future generations,” she said. “Once they’ve done their job, they will naturally decay and disintegrate in our atmosphere. All of our activity will also comply with the Australian Space Act, which is stringent on keeping all debris to a minimum.”
On the topic of policy, Nardini said the Australian government has been very supportive of locally led space initiatives such as Fleet. Still, “without an agency this support can only go so far,” she said. Australia does have an organization to promote space activity in the country, the Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA), but one of its major limitations is that it does not hold the power to govern and regulate movement, Nardini said.
“We are strongly advocating for an Australian space agency — it is an absolute necessity to incubate a culture of Australian-led space innovation,” she said. “Without such, our local industry lags behind global standards. We also don’t have the ability to promote our development, regulate activities, and advocate for funding as clearly. In the void of this, many companies are relying, at least somewhat, on privately funded investors to get their innovations off the ground.”
Nardini’s sentiments echo comments made during the Australian space panel at this year’s National Space Symposium. Russell Boyce, chair for space engineering at the University of New South Wales-Canberra, had also expressed a desire for a national agency, stating that it “could be the vehicle to stimulate a mature Australian space sector.”
But even without the backing of a national agency, Fleet will continue to forge ahead on its constellation plans. Nardini was unable to confirm any concrete details related to who will ultimately launch the constellation, but said the company is currently in the process of selecting its providers. “Our focus now is launching our first nanosatellites next year,” she said.