Seedstars World just released the names of the five Cape Town winners who will move on to the second and final South African round that will take place in Johannesburg on July 17th. One of them is Azimuth, whose founder, Jeanine Engelbrecht, kindly answered Nicolas Bry‘s questions to let us discover Azimuth more in-depth.
1) Market, Target, Usage
NB: Hi Azimuth, you propose to mining companies frequent and accurate maps of unstable areas to minimize loss of life and damage to infrastructure: can you give us exemplary use cases for your service? What is the main value proposition for mining companies compared to current situation?
JE: Surface deformation caused by shallow underground mining poses a risk to health and safety as well as infrastructure and the environment. The consequences of mining deformation are so severe that legislation frequently forces mining companies to implement programmes for the long-term monitoring of mining-induced deformation extending beyond mine closure. To comply with legislation and to minimise the risks, mining companies implement deformation monitoring programmes based on field-surveying techniques. Current field-based monitoring efforts are labour-intensive, time-consuming and impossible to implement over large areas. It is also dangerous to send surveyors into potentially unstable areas. Furthermore, field surveys usually only take place once the presence of instabilities become known so these techniques fail to provide early warning of potentially dangerous health and safety conditions. To overcome these challenges, mining companies also commission airborne surveys. However, these surveys are very expensive and therefore implemented very infrequently.
Azimuth is designed to detect, measure and monitor surface deformation using state-of-the-art technology. It is unique in that, for the first time, continuous operational monitoring over large areas can be achieved in a systematic, standardised way. The system allows for the rapid detection of millimeter-scale surface deformation while frequent observations allows for the monitoring of the evolution of deforming areas over time. Because it is a remote monitoring system, it overcomes the limitations of field-based surveying techniques while providing regular observations at a fraction of the cost of airborne surveys.
2) Business model & Marketing
NB: How do you provide frequently updated and accurate maps? On what observation technology is your automatic topographical survey based on ? Are the maps accessible on any connected device? How is your process scalable?
How do you plan to market your service?
JE: Azimuth is a monitoring system that is based on satellite imaging technology and underpinned by a mature information and communications technology (ICT) platform. Since it is based on satellite imagery, remote monitoring over large areas is possible, effectively overcoming the limitations of traditional monitoring approaches. Because the satellites are orbiting the earth, frequent data acquisitions are possible allowing for regular deformation measurements. This makes early warning of surface instabilities in high risk areas a possibility. This means that mines can proactively neutralise dangerous health and safety conditions and minimise the potential for damage to their assets.
The deformation maps generated by Azimuth are disseminated directly to the end user via electronic notifications. Web-based mapping services are also available that can be accessed on any device together with contextual information. This ensures that the mining sector effectively becomes an information society that is connected to a system that constantly creates and disseminates new information critical to their operations.
The early adopters of Azimuth’s services are based in the South Africa, which is known for abundant mineral resources. However, the satellites can be commissioned to capture data anywhere on the globe and the extraction of deformation maps and the notifications and delivery of information to end users has, to a large degree, been automated. This implies that there is a significant opportunity for Azimuth to scale into a global deformation monitoring solution.
NB: Would drones be able in the future to provide you with relevant imagery at lower cost than satellite?
JE: Drone-based data acquisitions cannot currently be used since we cover very large areas in a single observation while drone-based data collection will be site-specific and limited in extent. That being said, we are currently investigating value-added products and services that can be provided by exploiting drones as platforms so they may be incorporated in the service offering in the near future.
NB: Tell us about your team, who you are, where you’re from, what are your skills, how you met, and what is your mantra?
JE: We are a team of 3 co-founders and we have access to a board of advisors consisting of serial Entrepreneurs and Licensing and ventures specialists. Together we have a diversity of skills and experience that will allow us to manage this start-up successfully:
- Lee Annamalai is our visionary and Chief Executive Officer. Lee is experienced in Technology and Business management and was involved with the establishment of the South African National Space Agency. He is internationally recognised in the Space science and Geospatial domain.
- Jeanine Engelbrecht – I am the lead scientists and product developer of the Azimuth System. I am a geologist by training and have over 10 years of industry specific experience. Azimuth was conceptualised during my PhD research which was completed through the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Cape Town.
- Philip Frost – Is the lead scientist and product manager of the Advanced Fire Information System (AFIS). Philip has over 10 years of experience in the development and operationalisation of commercially viable services based on space- and geospatial technology
NB: What would you describe as a success for your venture?
Our goals for Azimuth are aligned with the creation of products and services that will fundamentally change the way our clients operate, thereby having a lasting impact. The commercialisation of Azimuth is driven by a desire create solutions that will improve the ability of the mining industry to operate on an environmentally and socially responsible manner. We will consider Azimuth successful when the system reaches a level of maturity where main-stream acceptance of the technology is achieved.