This startup wants to run the internet of things via nano satellite

The launch of the Falcon 9 Space X rocket at the Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Image: HANDOUT/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

We’re hurtling towards a future where everything from cows to toasters will be internet-connected. But do we have the infrastructure to support this digital web?

An Australian startup wants its nano satellites to help form the backbone of the internet of things. Founded in 2015, Adelaide-based Fleet announced a A$5 million ($3.8 million) Series A funding round Tuesday, to help build its satellite constellation.

CEO and cofounder Flavia Tata Nardini said the team realised early on that the estimated 75 billion devices due to come online by 2025 couldn’t do so without the right tools in place. “Our idea was to try and enable this revolution, because it’s really happening, it’s going to change the industry, but it’s not as simple as everyone says,” she explained.

In the past, nano satellites have been used for scientific missions, but more recently for commercial activities like Earth observation and mapping. Plant Labs, the California company founded by Australian Chris Boshuizen, is one player in this space. But Tata Nardini wants her constellation to help network smart devices and sensors across industries.

“Fleet is playing in a space device connectivity which is quite unique. We want to be frontrunners,” she said.

Atlassian cofounder and Fleet investor Mike Cannon-Brookes said in a statement the company was solving an important problem: “How do we bring all the devices and technology we’ve created together to work as one?”

“Once live, Fleet will solve an innumerable amount of the world’s problems as it enables the potential of technology to be turned on,” he added.

Of course, telecommunication companies such as Vodafone are also looking at 5G mobile networks, among other measures, to support the internet of things, but Tata Nardini thinks her tiny satellites could play a role.

“Connecting people is actually quite different than infrastructure for things and devices,” she said. “It’s less data, different timing things need an infrastructure themselves.”

There’s also the matter of getting the devices into space, and the team is currently working on locating launch procurement in the U.S.

“Connecting people is actually quite different than infrastructure for things and devices.”

For now, Fleet plans to run pilot programs in different markets including agriculture, transport and oil and gas, before launching the first couple of satellites in 2018.

If all goes to plan, the entire 100-nano satellite constellation should come online over the next four years.

Originally from Italy, Tata Nardini moved to Australia “for a love story.” She’s worked with the European Space Agency, among others, but said Fleet’s devices will be designed and built in Australia.

After launch, they will serve a significant part of the globe. “Most of South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and in the future, we hope to cover part of the United States and Europe,” she added. “Europe is well connected, however when you go into oceans, imagine cargo or shipping containers moving from one continent to the other connectivity is just not there. There’s a big opportunity.”

But while the private space industry is taking off globally with headline-grabbing companies like America’s Space X and Blue Origin, Tata Nardini is adamant Australia need its own dedicated space agency to keep pace. She called for the government to step up.

“A space agency forces collaboration and innovation. I do think it’s necessary,” she said. “The government has to keep up support and make radical changes in the coming years.”

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