Redbird, a French company which has built a strong reputation operating drones for the construction, public works and mining sectors, has just launched Cardinal, a Cloud-based service with ambitions to become the ‘Google Maps’ for aerial infrastructure monitoring.
Redbird made front page news in the business press in April when GDF Suez announced it was injecting €2 million into the company through its New Ventures fund. This financial boost for the Paris-based startup will enable it to set up in the United States and re-position itself as a provider of a Cloud-based analytics service for all kinds of data collected by unmanned aerial vehicles.
Redbird operates Trimble’s Gatewing civil drone
PositionnRedbird has so far mainly been providing its services to the construction and public works sectors. Its first major investor was building site vehicle specialist Bergerat Monnoyeur, a Caterpillar distributor in France. Among its customers are both major sector players such as Eurovia, Lafarge, Colas and Vinci that work on hundreds of sites at a time and smaller French firms, including road-builders NGE Guintolli and quarrying specialist Les Carrières du Boulonnais, with an average of 10 - 30 sites each. Redbird analyses the images captured by unmanned aerial vehicles flying over their buildings, quarries and other sites and provides data on the current status of the works, productivity statistics and suggestions for site optimisation.
Automating analysis of drone photos via the Cloud
Redbird CEO Emmanuel de Maistre has concluded that the Cloud provides the best solution for carrying out analysis of the huge volumes of data collected. "We’ve been flying drones for three years now and in that time we’ve gathered huge quantities of data. We therefore need to have the right processing infrastructure.” Each set of flights over a quarry or building site will generate thousands if not tens of thousands of images, which then have to be processed in order to extract the information. The Cloud approach provides the required power and flexibility, stresses de Maistre.
Redbird’s presentation of Cardinal
Given that Redbird works mainly in such sectors as buildings, construction, public works, mining and quarrying, the type of information required is quite similar across the board: "They generally need metrics on production, productivity and the security aspects of the sites,” says de Maistre, explaining: “We’ve developed image analysis algorithms which extract this data from the photos and it’s far more efficient to have our algorithms running automatically in the Cloud rather than manually on our computers.” Another major reason for switching to the Cloud is that this makes it very easy to share data. The Cardinal service can be accessed through the web and will soon be available on mobile devices as well. All customers can access their own data and images and share them in-house. Named after the distinctive red-coloured bird found in the Americas, Redbird’s Cardinal Cloud platform is hosted by Amazon Web Services.
European – especially French – firms out in front in drone data exploitation
Redbird’s Cardinal is competing with the Delair Analytics platform recently launched by Delair-Tech, a company based in the French city of Toulouse, which sells the platform along with its own-design drones. Faced with this major rival and competition from other drone operators, Emmanuel de Maistre has been manoeuvring into a unique market position. "Today we don’t necessarily have to do the flying any more. More and more of our customers are now buying drones, which they operate themselves. Moreover, lots of people in France, Europe and the United States now have their own drones and are authorised to fly them,” he points out, stressing: “We prefer to work with the drone operators, who do the flying for us. By leaving them to fly, getting our customers to actually fly the drones, we can focus on our core business, which is developing the platform.”
This strategy could help Cardinal to prise open the US market, which is rather more receptive to Cloud solutions than European countries. “In the United States, people trust the Cloud and everything happens in the Cloud,” points out de Maistre, adding: “By contrast, making use of data gathered by drones is at a far less advanced stage in the United States than in France and elsewhere in Europe. It’s been taking longer to draw up the necessary regulation in the US and even now it’s still not formally in place, so it’s difficult to operate drones there. With Cardinal, we have a clear competitive advantage."
Diversifying into maintenance monitoring of networks and infrastructure
In addition to building construction and public works, the large infrastructure and networks sector could potentially provide the next customers for Redbird’s platform. Railways, roads, power lines, oil and gas pipelines are all regularly monitored for maintenance purposes. “Operators of these networks are obviously interested in using drones for regular surveillance of their installations, whether we’re talking about daily, monthly, or annual checks. Our platform will be able to process drone data for these new markets,” underlines Emmanuel de Maistre, revealing: “We’ve set up pilot projects with [French high-voltage power grid operator] RTE and [French State railway company] SNCF, to incorporate data on electric power and railway lines into our platform. However, from a commercial viewpoint this market still isn’t mature,” he concedes.
Today Redbird employs around thirty people, two thirds of whom are working on developing the platform. These software developers, who specialise variously in remote detection, image processing, 3D reconstruction and Machine Learning, are helping to take Redbird to the top in its field.