Luīze Sila

Birds.ai from applying AI to help rhinos to finding a commercial scalable business model

In the first Rockstart AI program, we had nine startups from all over the world that for 180 days worked in Den Bosch to shape and build their products, get feedback from mentors, and connect to potential investors and customers. Birds.ai, a startup that utilizes the maximum value of (renewable) high value assets by using AI to instantly and automatically find defects of assets in pictures, was one of these nine startups and this is their story and their experience on becoming part of the Rockstart network.

The idea behind the Birds.ai

The story of Birds.ai started almost five years ago when a team of students decided to participate in a challenge to develop a drone that helps to save rhinos in South Africa. The Dutch UAS foundation was founded to develop and test an affordable and easy-to-use smart drone system for wildlife protection.

“We had to do tests in a Zoo here in the Netherlands,” revealed Camiel Verschoor, CEO of Birds.ai. “There are no rhinos here in the wild, but we had to get data to train our algorithms. We got creative! The main idea was that we take pictures of nature reserves with drones. But it’s not useful to send these pictures to the ranger, because then instead of walking around he’s going through all of the pictures. It doesn’t make sense! So we trained AI to go through them and only alert the ranger when it finds an animal or a human. That way the ranger only has to make the decision on what he’s going to do.”

After success in South Africa, the team was eager to find new opportunities for the technology they had developed. It was understandable to search for possibilities in the area of agriculture and inspection because the drones were being used in this area already. That’s when with an investment from Delft Enterprises Birds.ai was founded.

“At that point, it was a technology looking for a problem to solve. We saw the drone hype all over, but they were just flying photographers creating loads of data for the asset owners to go through. It was the case of the ranger all over again,” Camiel Verschoor explained. “It’s not efficient. The asset owner only wants to know if the asset is ok or not. This was our chance.” Now the Birds.ai View offers asset owners visual overviews of how the wind farms and solar farms are doing by distinguishing different levels of damages allowing asset owners to only make decisions on what should be done next. While Birds.ai has found a commercial application for their technology and are looking for a place to accelerate their business, they have not forgotten their old goal of wildlife protection and are having a monthly hackathons to work on the Dutch UAS foundation.

Being a part of the Rockstart AI program

At the beginning, the Birds.ai team was hesitant about joining the program because they had just signed a long-term contract with their client Wien Energy. They were concerned that the program would take the time away from their main work, while the goal at that point was to make the client happy. “Rockstart reassured us on our concerns and we joined the program. I think we did well in finding a balance between the program and our clients. I looked critically at what was offered to us and our team attended the workshops that were really relevant and important for our growth,” said Camiel.

“From my point of view the most powerful thing about Rockstart is the network,” Camiel acknowledged. “Even after the program, we get easy access to potential leads. It’s not only investors or clients, but also a connection to experts that can provide us with useful insights and help resolve our questions. It speeds up the process and accelerates our development.” In other cases, these connections helped Birds.ai to validate if it is profitable for the startup to invest in a new direction of inspections. Sometimes it wasn’t but it’s good that they were able to specify their focus.

And if asked how should a startup decide if it should apply for the second Rockstart AI program Camiel draws straight from Birds.ai experience: “Each startup is in a different stage and different elements need to be validated. You should start by figuring out what are the challenges and how can you solve them.” And besides that Camiel highlights the importance of putting this in the perspective, “Think forward to how your startup will look after six months with and without the program. Look at the program critically and see if it fits your needs. For us, Rockstart was also interesting because of other Rockstart program directions, not only the AI.”

What’s next?

Right now Birds.ai team is working at Rockstart coworking space and enjoying the mixture of people that are working here. In 2020, Birds.ai wants to scale to other high value assets such as bridges, power lines, and sea vessels. The main focus of the team is finetuning the product and working towards 100 wind turbine inspections this year and 1000 inspections next year. To reach these milestones by 2020  Birds.ai is currently fundraising.

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