This story was published in the Stacey on IoT newsletter on Friday June 17, 2021.
Indoor Robotics, a four-year-old Israeli company, is building an indoor flying drone that can provide environmental sensing as well as a security camera for commercial and industrial settings. And this week, the company raised $15 million, with plans to use the funding to complete the development of its Tando indoor drone.
Unlike the Ring Always Home Cam, which Amazon showed off two years ago to much jeering and concern over privacy, the Tando indoor robot is designed for security in commercial spaces, where people don’t have an expectation of privacy. Additionally, the Tando drone is actually available to buy today.
The Tando drone has a camera for visually scanning a facility after an alarm has been raised or for general airborne patrol, but I’m most interested in its other features, such as temperature monitoring and air quality sensors that might be more useful in industrial settings. The ability to track the release of dangerous chemicals in a refinery or chemicals plant could be very helpful, for example.
In another example, data centers are potential customers of these devices. Though while data centers are worried about unauthorized access to servers in a facility, equipment that overheats is a much bigger challenge. So instead of having hundreds of sensors array around the facility, having a few drones swoop through and measure air temperature might be more effective.
And yes, having a flying camera is cool, but it would mostly be used to check up on alerts from other systems. Being able to take a closer look inside a facility, especially one without a lot of employees working in it, is also a compelling value proposition. And the drone comes with a docking station designed to affix to the ceiling so it can act as a security camera while it charges.
Building a working drone took time. The founders of Indoor Robotics turned to the EU and a startup competition to help fund the company in its early days, and to create the robot. In 2020, the company won the equivalent of $2.7 million in prize money, which helped keep it on track throughout the pandemic and enabled it to finish building its drone.
And as it turns out, building a drone that can navigate indoors and hang out on a dock in the ceiling to charge is no small feat.
Apparently when Indoor Robotics was trying to build the docking station and get the drone to land there, the drone kept crashing. The software engineers tried to adjust the navigation algorithms, but the issue was actually physical, requiring the addition of capacitors to the drone to avoid static interference as it came in close to the docking station for a landing.
Indoor navigation is also a challenge; standard methods, such as GPS, are unreliable indoors, where satellite signals can’t always penetrate. So the engineers added the camera and a LIDAR system for navigation, which helps provide two layers of “vision” for the drone. If one fails, hopefully the other can pick up the slack, keeping the drone in the air and able to avoid obstacles.
Customers are currently using the Tando drone, although Indoor Robotics doesn’t disclose who those customers are. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few of these roaming a mall or a warehouse sometime in the near future.