When Elon Musk decided he wanted to send the first rocket to Mars, he went to buy rockets. It was then that he discovered that the price of a rocket was astronomical, even though the materials accounted for only 2-3% of the cost. So he decided to build his own rocket and SpaceX was born. The end result is a company that will soon provide connectivity to all the people of the earth, which we wrote in our article The overall impact of cheap launches and satellites.
Elon Musk uses what is called a “first thought principle,” which is not just a fantastic phrase to use when someone asks you a question in a meeting and it costs you a clever answer. We can describe the first principles by quoting cryptic things that Aristotle said or we can simply summarize them in one sentence, as James Clear did: “the best solution is not where everyone is already looking.”
So when a man who embodies the first principles of thought decides to acquire what someone thought, you know it’s something special. Today we’ll take a look at a company called Swarm Technologies that was recently acquired by SpaceX.
Low cost two-way global satellite connectivity for IoT devices
Credit: Swarm Technologies
About Swarm Technologies
When a large company swallows a smaller company, you need to gather information quickly before everything gets behind a corporate firewall. This is one of the reasons we wanted to write about Swarm Technologies. The other is that it refers to a company in our own portfolio of technology stocks: Trimble (TRMB).
Founded in 2017, it launched Swarm Technologies, the Silicon Valley startup $ 27.7 million in funding disclosed to meet the “huge and growing demands of a low-cost IoT network with 100% continuous global coverage.” Almost 90% of the earth’s surface has no mobile or WiFi connectivity. Once Swarm has launched its entire constellation of 150 satellites, each point on Earth will have at least 3 satellites that will cover it at all times. The two star components of the Swarm offering can be seen below: the Swarm Tile (a dedicated two-way satellite data modem that sells for $ 119) and the SpaceBEE picosatellite (not for sale, about $ 20,000 with release included).
The gentleman in the picture above, Dr. Ben Longmier, is co-founder of Swarm. It has a chip that can embed any printed circuit board with cheap IoT connectivity anywhere in the world. The woman in the picture above, Dr. Sara Spangelo, is the other co-founder who has the smallest commercial satellite in space weighing just 14 ounces (400 grams). Dr. Spangelo is an incredibly experienced scientist and businesswoman who shouldn’t need any introductions because her face appears in most women’s magazines and countless TV shows. Oh, wait. (Review notes.) Sorry, this is Kim Kardashian, someone who inspires young women to pursue a career in anything but STEM.
Slow and economical connectivity
The best estimates are that 80% of Swarm satellites have already been deployed (launched into space by SpaceX, of course) and that the entire constellation will be in orbit by the end of the year at a cost of less than $ 3 million. This cheap cost is what allows Swarm to offer data plans starting at $ 5 a month. But don’t expect to surf shrimp in remote areas of the Darian Gap for that price. The speed at which you can read and write data to Swarm satellites (1 kilobit per second) is what you would expect from a 2400 baud USRobotics modem running ZMODEM.
The founders of Swarm also employed the first principles by thinking and building all parts of the stack themselves, from terrestrial chips to satellites to the software that the entire ecosystem uses to communicate. And, in a nerdy way, they’ve designed all of that so everyone can play. If you want to let your family know that your sailboat has arrived safely in Tristan Da Cunha, all you have to do is pay $ 499 for the next appliance and cook with gas.
Messages can be retrieved using a file aapplication pprogramming jointerface (API) or webhook, so Grandma will need to learn some basic coding skills. The Swarm network is a storage and forwarding system, that is, you send messages to the satellites and forward them to the recipients of the terrain with each satellite capable of storing 4,000 messages. The Swarm data plan is an annual contract that provides 750 data packets per device per month, up to 192 characters per packet. This equates to approximately 514 tweets per text per month, with capacity for anyone jondustrial joInternet Of things (iiotis) device that has to convey important information to its stakeholders.
A brief look at the Swarm blog provides an idea of the progress being made regardless of how many satellites have been launched. There is a partnership with Ford that hints at the extent to which IIoT connectivity could be used to assess the performance of a vendor’s part in a vehicle. It is mentioned how Swarm has integrated its solution with Semtech’s LoRa devices. And there are some interesting use cases that may appeal to all your ESG types.
SpaceX fights forest fires
The amount of carbon dioxide caused by forest fires decreases what cars put in. We add up all the earth that burns globally in an average year and are looking for up to 13 billion metric tons of additional carbon in the atmosphere annually (of an estimated total of 50 billion metric tons). Maybe we can save the planet if we don’t let it burn?
The ability to collect information anywhere and transmit it to a central location helps a company called Dryad Networks fight fires. Their sensors are able to detect a new fire within 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the location of the sensor, and they can even detect fires while they are still smoking, before they become dangerous open flames.
Dryad’s solution is specifically designed to address the exceptional need for fire detection in remote areas, where there are no passers-by reporting the first signs of a fire. This means that Dryad sensors typically operate in regions without cell coverage. Without a cost-effective solution like the one it offers
Swarm SpaceX, Dryad would not be able to help save lives and reduce carbon emissions across the planet we all call home.
SpaceX feeds the hungry
Half of the world’s habitable land is used for food production, but much of it has no cellular cover. In Australia, for example, where 58% of land is used for agricultural purposes, more than 75% of the country is not covered by land networks. This makes it very difficult to deploy effective agtech control solutions.
Farmers use much of the land’s most precious resource, water, and a company called SweetSense offers a low-cost water remote control solution to control pump devices. It’s not just about controlling water use. On average, electricity is the third largest expense of farmers, and California farmers spend $ 1 billion a year on electricity for pumping groundwater. (Approximately 85% of California’s population and much of its $ 50 billion agricultural industry depend on groundwater, as opposed to surface water, as its primary source of water.) With a million groundwater pumps to control, SweetSense needed a cheap way to relay information. Below you can see how they embedded a Swarm Tile in the control device.
The result is a 6 times cheaper solution than the previous satellite provider they used. Water is conserved, farmers ’margins are improved and less energy is used. Everyone wins.
Going back to our previous comment on Trimble, the Swarm infrastructure has created compliments to existing IIoT offerings rather than competing with them. It also opens the door to new use cases that were previously inhibited by cost. Companies like Trimble can get great savings using a solution that costs up to 20 times less than existing methods. These savings go directly to the bottom line for all areas dedicated to Trimble: construction, fleet management, and agriculture. As shareholders, we prefer them to spend less time and effort on divisive D&I initiatives and more on really innovating in the way Swarm has.
When you use the first principles of thinking, competition is a debatable point. You already reviewed what they had on offer and it was a hit. That’s why you decided to build it all from the ground up. In a previous article titled Satellite IoT startup plans to track everything from space, we examined several companies trying to solve the IoT connectivity problem using various methods, including satellite connectivity. If you are an investor who supported any of these companies, you should be very scared now. This is because Elon Musk only sets his eyes on the biggest prizes.
Sure, there’s room for more than one player, but the low-cost provider of a commodity offering like connectivity will always win in the long run.
There’s a lot of speculation about why SpaceX might have acquired Swarm, but it’s pretty straightforward. A couple of talented entrepreneurs solved a big bold problem using the thought of early principles, and His Holiness Elon Musk blessed their methods and production by giving them mountains of cash. A SpaceX satellite weighs about 570 pounds, so adding IoT features for less than a pound of weight gain seems logical. Add storage as needed and SpaceX has fixed the IoT connectivity issue.
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