It was a moment where creativity, technology and society came together. At the 2016 ActInSpace, Julien Lengrand-Lambert’s team was looking for an idea that was economically sustainable, highly automated and would benefit someone else.
“Greece was making headlines because of the debt crisis. It was also a very warm day. That’s where the idea came from,” Lengrand-Lambert explains. His team decided to use satellite imagery to detect illegal swimming pools in Greece. From this first solution, the company Skyai – which helps businesses enact smarter environmental policies through geospatial analysis of satellite imagery – was born.
In for the win-win
“ActInSpace is an excellent opportunity to develop the space ecosystem and foster a spirit of entrepreneurship,” underlines Matthieu Lys, Innovation Manager for Airbus Defence and Space and coordinator of Airbus’ involvement in the challenge. “And it also helps us discover both new talents and fresh ideas from outside.” The event unites participants for 24 hours to solve challenges using space technologies, data, patents and infrastructures and then to launch start-ups based on these solutions.
Airbus is not only providing 6 technical challenges and prizes – including free satellite data worth €100,000 – to this year’s contest, but its employees are also volunteering their time to act as business coaches, space experts and even participants. “Airbus’ challenges are directly linked with our innovation roadmap, including use of machine learning and robotics,” Lys adds, “and the winning start-ups propose solutions that use data or platforms provided by Airbus, so it’s a win-win approach."
The projects developed during ActInSpace have ambitious aims: improving citizens’ lives, boosting employment and protecting the Earth. This also reflects the aims of UN Sustainable Development Goal Number 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure – which promotes sustainable economic development and entrepreneurship, and to which Airbus is committed.
“We wanted to make a positive impact on the world as we strongly believe in protecting our planet,” Lengrand-Lambert states. Skyai – whose first customer is Dutch company Over Morgen – offers an urban heat island detector to help reduce waste heat, having decided to refocus their offering around the area of sustainability. And Lengrand-Lambert’s sentiments are echoed by Adrien Muller, whose team’s DYbyDX project won Airbus’ Innovation Prize at ActInSpace 2016.
DYbyDX offers a solution to facilitate urban navigation for people with limited mobility using satellite and street-level imagery, digital elevation models and crowd-sourced data. “At any one time 40% of us experience some restriction in our mobility – be it through injury, as a wheelchair user or simply a parent with a pushchair,” Muller explains. “It’s interesting to see how our project addresses an issue that many people can relate to, that there is an emotional connection."
The journey continues
Team DYbyDX see three use cases for their solution. A longer term option would be to partner with a company like Google or Citymapper on a routing app; they are currently looking to partner with a ‘Smart City’, the Royal Borough of Greenwich in London, to help improve mobility at the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site and to provide navigation information through a series of digital signs around the Greenwich peninsula. Leveraging this latter association, DYbyDX is developing a demonstration project proposal with the European Space Agency.
ActInSpace was the catalyst for both these start-ups and the beginning of 2 years’ hard work towards realising their vision. The same is true for the team that became KERMAP, a start-up that provides solutions to support cities in their ecological transition. “We work on ecosystem services like the benefits green spaces provide to citizens and for biodiversity,” CEO Antoine Lefebvre explains. “For example, vegetation is able to regulate the temperature of districts during heat waves. We can tell how many trees are required and where to plant them in order to decrease temperature.” Other services are air quality monitoring and carbon storage estimation.
The teams’ journeys have been marked by kickstart projects, finding funding, working with incubators and industrials, and winning their first contracts. KERMAP can count the city of Rennes as an initial customer. The start-up used satellite imagery to map and qualify green areas in the French city so as to support urban planning that mitigates climate change. They are now developing a pilot for Singapore.
Lefebvre is proud of his company’s first successes. “I’m most happy about building my own team and being able to provide jobs to people,” he says. KERMAP plans to hire at least 2 more people after summer – however their sights are set to further horizons: “Our biggest challenge is to be viable beyond 5 years and compete with the leaders in the Earth observation market".