In the second instalment of the “Virtual Swiss Drone Industry Tour”, a series of webinars organized by the Greater Geneva Bern area (GGBa) and Greater Zurich Area (GZA), the focus is firmly centered on the Swiss drone ecosystem. Experts from leading Swiss drone start-ups and funding agencies are providing insights into the innovation network across Switzerland.
As an introduction, Roland Siegwart offered an overview of the Swiss network. Siegwart is one of the most-cited experts in his field, explains Lukas Sieber, Executive Director USA Greater Zurich Area Ltd and moderator of the webinar.
According to Siegwart, research forms the backbone of the network in Switzerland: “The two technical universities in Zurich and Lausanne are the most important developers of innovative technologies”. A rich network of companies and supporters, including the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Robotics and University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI), which is located in Lugano in the canton of Ticino, has sprung up around the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) and Zurich (ETHZ).
Start-ups are joining forces
The focus is not only on constructing flying robots, but also on developing systems for perception and navigation, Siegwart says. The central role played by software development processes in this is shown by David Lanter, that takes his start-up Tinamu as an example. “We create the software building blocks, which is the interface, the analysis software and navigation”, Lanter states. However, one thing Tinamu does not offer is any drones of its own: “For that, we rely on partner companies”, explains Lanter. The Zurich-based start-up is supported by funding agencies such as Venture Kick in the areas of marketing, business development and market access. However, Tinamu can also rely on the support of a dense network of start-ups. According to Lanter, Swiss drone start-ups are well connected as many arose from the same research centers. This offers huge advantages in terms of development: “Having tight connections to other start-ups are a very efficient way for us to solve problems”, Lanter explains. This means that start-ups are therefore in a position to directly learn from more experienced players within their industries.
Mélanie Guittet, co-founder of the company Involi, also underlines the benefits of partner companies in the Swiss drone ecosystem. Involi offers a system to secure flight space that is shared with manned flight devices, for which the company is adding sensors to the previously used radars in order to cover more space. “We complete the existing air traffic picture”, says Guittet. The true extent of the potential offered by the company’s systematic approach is shown by cooperations with Swisscom, the country’s largest telecommunications provider, and Swiss Post in addition to international partnerships. “Our foremost competitive advantage is our ability to collaborate successfully”, comments Guittet, before adding: “This is a huge differentiator compared to a lot of other countries”.
Ticino brings together AI and drone tech
The canton of Ticino has also been able to claim a seat at the Swiss drone industry table alongside Zurich and Lausanne. Thanks to initiatives such as the Swiss Drone Base Camp (SDBC) in Lodrino, the canton of Ticino has established itself as an important hub for innovations within the field of flight robotics in Europe. The testing and development center offers a key advantage: A section of free flight space above the area allows tests to be carried out on new drones quickly. “There is a need for testing facilities”, comments Enzo Giannini, President of the SDBC. This is also shown in the numerous partners of the SDBC. One of the founding members is the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence Research (IDSIA) – often referred to as the Swiss AI Lab – in Lugano. The institute is regarded as one of the world’s leading bodies in the area of Artificial Intelligence (AI), although research into flight robotics is also conducted here. Drones that can be controlled simply by pointing with a finger are an example of one of the most recent applications of the technology. “These learning approaches allow our drones to improve their performance simply by being used”, explains Alessandro Giusti, Head of the Robotics Lab at IDSIA. As the above example demonstrates, the amalgamation of these two technologies has real potential in the field of human-robot interactions, according to Giusti.
by Smilla Diener
Have you missed the 2nd part of the Virtual Swiss Drone Industry Tour? Watch now the recording of "Innovate and Collaborate":