Swisscom StartUp Challenge: Fotokite provides more insights for rescue workers

For Fotokite, winning the Swisscom StartUp Challenge 2020 came at the right time. The three-month exploration phase allows the start-up to explore the possibilities offered by 5G for its tethered drones for rescue workers. In addition, new perspectives open up on the business side.

It is obvious that a bird’s eye view offers rescue workers some advantages and this is why drones have become popular with rescue organisations. But drones usually need several hundred hours of pilot training to be useful. Fotokite is different: the drone sits like a kite at the end of a long string – this and clever software make it completely autonomous. “For an operation, the rescue teams just have to press a button and the drone takes off and provides aerial intelligence. This 100% autonomy, independent of real-world conditions, makes us unique,” explains Chris McCall, CEO of the start-up.

The drone is already in use in the US and the company is currently building a sales network in Europe. The first European sales have already started this year, with the company benefiting from increasing demand. “Five years ago, rescue organisations classified drones as a ‘nice to have’. Today, they are seen as a necessary element in the field,” says McCall.

New possibilities with 5G

This development will be accelerated by 5G because the technology solves several problems at once. A guaranteed bandwidth is available for rescue operations, which is particularly important in cities with high levels of mobile internet traffic. The bandwidth is also higher, which allows multiple video streams simultaneously, simplifying the coordination of teams spread over a large area – and with 5G, the streams can also be forwarded to an operations centre.

The Swisscom StartUp Challenge’s exploration programme allows Fotokite to test 5G extensively, with support in the form of hardware, test infrastructure and expertise from Swisscom and partners Ericsson and Qualcomm. However, it’s not so much a test of the transmission technology itself: “5G is mature and works already with minimal modifications to our existing product,” explains McCall. He wants to explore the possibilities now offered by 5G in order to identify those innovations that bring the greatest benefit to rescue workers; for example, a live stream will be tested with videos from several perspectives.

The start-up’s CEO is also keen to initiate further collaborations with Swisscom. The StartUp Challenge provides a good basis for building mutual trust and the information delivered by the Fotokite has other potential application areas. “Other market segments include security, events, sports, broadcast, where we have some early customers too. As we continue focusing on a demanding public safety sector, our system starts to meet the needs of some commercial segments as well” says McCall. As Swisscom is already an established major player in these areas, collaborations could accelerate entry into these new markets.

(Stefan Kyora)