With legislation recently passed that will see spaceports built in Scotland, a rocket launch in the Western Isles and the imaginations of many piqued from the commercialised space race, it seems that space – and the almost aspirational technology so often associated with it – has found a captive audience in Scotland.
Glasgow-based startup R3-IoT’s Cannon (CEO) and Quillien (CTO) are no strangers to space technology. Indeed, they both began forming the idea for what would become R3-IoT in 2018 while working for AAC Clyde Space, a company specialising in the delivery of nano-satellite spacecraft. While there, Cannon worked as Head of Missions and Quillien as Head of Spacecraft Design.
Unlike many space technology companies launching satellites into orbit, Cannon and Quillien are taking a different approach with R3-IoT. Instead, their focus is on connecting the value of new, emerging digital and IoT technologies with space technology already in orbit.
In doing so, they aim to address the challenges that organisations face in digitising business operations, products, and services due to unreliable or a complete lack of communications infrastructure.
With 90% of the planet lacking traditional communications infrastructure, R3-IoT is a business with lofty aspirations that could have positive, far-reaching impacts for many industries.
We caught up with Allan and Kevin about the global connectivity challenge, why addressing this isn’t enough to close the digital divide across industry, and why satellite-enabled data intelligence services could be revolutionary.
The global connectivity challenge
The market is inundated with new digital technologies pitched to drive business improvements across areas such as operations, sustainability, and asset management. However, many organisations simply cannot take advantage of, or embed these into their overall operations.
Why? As mentioned already, 90% of the planet lacks this infrastructure – a startling statistic and one that, if addressed, could change the game for many businesses. As Cannon and Quillien state, without reliable global connectivity, you cannot digitise, reduce costs, manage risk and enable innovation.
Unfortunately, the connectivity solution isn’t as easy as flipping a switch.
“Cellular networks can provide stable connectivity solutions and are economical in that they can have large coverage areas – often in metropolitan areas with high volumes of users.
“However, this becomes more challenging when in remote or rural locations, where it can be more difficult to implement infrastructure to provide connectivity for data and internet-based solutions,” says Quillien.
Cannon weighs on this saying: “The ROI of installing fibre broadband can be quite challenging too, especially in rural areas. We’ve worked with companies that have been forced to incur huge costs to provide their own dedicated fibre line to critical assets.
“What is clear though, is that there is a distinct digital divide between rural and metropolitan areas.” he added.
The rapid progress in space technology has seen the rise of alternative solutions in improving global connectivity and closing the digital divide. OneWeb and Starlink are never far from the news, famed for its plans to launch new satellites into orbit to improve global connectivity in an industry valued at $66.6bn in 2020.
Quillien says: “With the new satellite technologies available on the market, you don’t need to dig up roads to lay expensive infrastructure in rural areas as it doesn’t require ‘on-the ground’ infrastructure to function.
“Enterprises and communities can reap the benefits of high speed, reliable connectivity in any location.”
Providing value that extends beyond connectivity
Witnessing the market boom in new IoT technologies, Cannon and Quillien identified a gap that was being underserved by the current space race, downstream near the customer – connecting the value of new IoT technologies with new innovative space technology already in use and planned to go into orbit, such as the new LEO satellite constellations.
“For many key industries looking to digitise their operations, pure satellite connectivity alone doesn’t solve their problems.
“It helps provide connectivity in multiple locations, but many organisations still struggle with inefficiencies, inaccurate and lagging data, and a heavy reliance on manual processes,” Cannon says.
“Kevin and I saw the opportunity to connect the dots and transform how information was collected, analysed and shared across multiple sites and locations to solve real customer problems.
“We have developed a full-stack platform – combining satellite, cellular, IoT, analytics and cybersecurity – which provides organisations with end-to-end data services from any location.
“They can remotely monitor, control and improve operations anywhere in the world regardless of existing infrastructure,” he adds.
Cloud technology and the data gold rush
While there’s no doubt that leveraging the cloud and satellite constellations in an IoT package is fascinating, why does it need to exist? Put simply, it’s a necessity.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, and you can’t improve it,” says Cannon.
“Even with the widespread recognition of the value of data, a huge challenge across industry, especially in enterprises with remote, multiple operations, is that data is often lagged, inaccurate or inconsistent.
“To drive real value from data, there needs to be confidence across the board that it is accurate, timely and consistent if it is to inform crucial business decisions,” he notes.
Cannon goes on to say: “It often stems from data collection. If data is collected manually, then it is at risk of human error. If data is collected via multiple sources, but not integrated into enterprise workflows – where is the value?
“However, if you can automatically collect up-to-date, accurate data across all assets, sites and operations, then you start to get a clearer picture. Integrate this into enterprise workflows, and that’s the point when the data turns into valuable, actionable insight – the gold.
“Our technology wirelessly connects smart devices such as sensors, automatically transmitting data via the cloud to an intuitive insights platform. This then provides insights that can inform, automate and advance operations for customers in key industries worldwide,” he adds.
The bar is never high enough when it comes to cybersecurity
While this all sounds great, an integrated data-handling device with seamless connectivity is going to raise concerns. The most obvious being that when moving large quantities of sensitive data, there is always going to be a security risk. A sentiment that’s not lost on Quillien.
He says: “[Security] is absolutely central in everything we do. We were among the first in industry to be awarded the IASME IoT Security Assured Gold Certification, which certifies internet connected devices against the most important security controls and demonstrates commitment to best practices in cybersecurity.
“We know that a single weak link in the supply chain can prove disastrous for any size of organisation, and we understand that it is imperative for enterprises to have complete confidence in their suppliers and vendors upholding cybersecurity best practices to safeguard their data, usability, and security.”
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The future for R3-IoT
It’s an exciting time for the burgeoning Scottish startup. In July this year, they secured £3.1million in a seed funding round led by New-York based VC Space Capital, joined by The Scottish National Investment Bank.
That’s set to see the business expand into international markets while creating 20 new roles over the next 16 months.
R3-IoT was also recently named as an Industrial Partner winner in the OneWeb Innovation Challenge 2021, beating more than 300 applicants from 19 countries.
Talking about the steady rise of R3-IoT, Cannon says: “Until recently, we bootstrapped the business and with support from Scottish Enterprise, the UK and European Space Agency and CENSIS – to name a few – we were able to grow from a team of two to a team of 18.
“However, the recent investment that we secured has really enabled us to take the business into its next phase, with technological innovation and commercialisation a core focus for us ahead of our upcoming market launch.
“This investment is also facilitating our growth, with plans to recruit across sales and business development and establish operations in North America.”
The Scottish space race
Spaceports and rocket launches aren’t the kind of lofty technological endeavours you would intuitively associate with Scotland. Yet, that narrative has very much changed in recent years.
So, is Scotland a real player in space technology?
Cannon certainly seems to think so: “Scotland is already a player in the space industry and our capabilities extend across the upstream space technologies to the downstream application areas.
“We’re starting to see second generation space companies where employees from one space company have left to join or form others, and this is leading to talent clusters.
“The ecosystem is also supported by our fantastic universities who are making it more accessible for graduates to build a career in space technology here in Scotland.”