I met Cristina Jarabo from Grupo IFFE during my visit to Global Robot Expo 2016 in Madrid. IFFE Group supports the development of the Spanish startup Dronlife which is dedicated to the design, development and implementation of several technological applications to provide a very special service for the healthcare sector by the use of a specially built drone. To better understand what is DronLife watch the video (link: https://youtu.be/QmWJYsCbaWg).
Andrea: Let's start our interview talking about Grupo IFFE. What is it?
Cristina: Grupo IFFE is not only focused to robotics. The industrial division is dedicated to the development of several technologies, some of them for precision agriculture, which is another big market for experimental technologies, other than this specific project for Dronlife in the healthcare sector.
Why the group decided to finance this Dronlife project?
This idea was presented by four girls of the University of Industrial Design in Ferrol, Galicia. Their professor decided that the project was worth a look from IFFE Group. The idea sounded very good and IFFE Group decided to back the project. The Group gave them the financial and logistical support to participate at the Dubai contest “Drones for Good” where they won the third prize and got the attention of the media and potential investors. Watch the video taken in Dubai (link: https://youtu.be/RaItHGoenI0).
Today, IFFE Group is still backing the project in its development. The Group is providing some resources to identify market and to afford the different developments associated with the project. The Group is still looking resources (investors) to industrialize the project.
Does DronLIfe try to raise money from Horizon 2020 or other European / National funding?
Cristina told me they were still in an experimental phase of the project and they cannot apply for money since the EU is keener on financing ready-to-market projects. Grupo IFFE is directly financing the project putting in the R&D phase some new skilled human resources like electronic engineers, telecom specialists, chemical specialists, computer engineers and so on. But to continue to the industrial phase they need investors. Probably public funds for innovative projects will be requested.
How many people work in the team?
Three design engineers, two chemical engineers, a PhD in telecom, an industrial engineer, an expert in information technology, an economist and a marketing expert.. This is very important due to the fact that usually projects that fail have a motivation: they are driven by engineers very good technically speaking but no good at doing business and accounting. The people with the degree in economics and marketing are put there by Grupo IFFE to interface the market and the potential investors. This is the added value of working in Grupo IFFE. The team is complemented with all necessary resources to become a multi-disciplinary team, with organizational, marketing and business development skills.
What is the lifecycle duration for bringing this project to the market?
When the financials necessary for the project are available they estimate that the first operational prototype will be ready in less than 15 months.
When I speak to start-ups for this kind of projects I see that the time-to-market is shrinking, from years to months. Is it correct in your opinion?
In this kind of technology, you cannot say “in three years” or you are obsolete. The market is changing very quickly and you’re out easily of the market. The teams must be very efficient and fast. Over 18 months you also need to change the technology used.
This is an interesting point. How to change or adapt the technology you’re using to build your machine “in progress”, meaning during the project development?
Cristina agrees with me and also told that we also see an acceleration of this problem. The technology is changing and for example two years ago you could not imagine all the educational robotics products we are surrounded today (during the interview at DronLife booth during the Global Robot Expo). And in one year’s time all these toys will be obsolete as well!
How Dronlife works in real life?
Cristina tells that Dronlife will be a service provider and the client gets the entire system “as an integral service”. The drone, the special container for the medical stuff or transplanted organs, the protocols for flying and the logistic procedures, the communication system (base station), the autonomous navigation system and all services to fly the drone from the starting point (the first hospital) to the destination (the other hospital).
What about the hospitals?
Cristina says that they need someone trained to properly load and unload the content of the drone, with proper procedures in place. They also have the support of the Spain National Organization for Transplants (ONT) since this system is the most innovative and reliable in the world. The 5% of the all transplants worldwide are done in Spain and the country has a very good reputation and protocols. Dronlife could get the protocols used in Spain to bring to other countries when they’ll sell the service. This will be useful in places like big cities where traffic jam is an obstacle to ambulances like Peking or New Delhi, or very insecure places due to violence and criminal activities like Cairo city, Johannesburg, Sao Paulo and many other emerging countries where traditional transport of organs is almost impossible. Today, when an organ must be quickly transported the ambulance is escorted by the police. Dronlife will enable a quicker transport.
This brings an issue with local legislation to fly your drone over a city. Do you need a special permit to fly?
Cristina says that in Spain, at this moment, the law does not allow the use of drones over populated areas. But in emerging markets like India or Africa the legislation is not so strict and they can start their services. In any case the Dronlife System will meet the local regulations. Safety is the key. This is the reason why the drone will have 6 or 8 rotors.
So the Business model is to start marketing the service in Spain or abroad?
Cristina says they are ready to export the service from the first moment. The target markets are very populated and chaotic megalopolis. In these areas, Dronlife System is the only option to give the service with an affordable price.
To start abroad and export your service worldwide you need a lot of local resources! How are you planning to do it?
Cristina says that in New Delhi, a local partner needs to solve the problem of a network of 21 hospitals which needs to give an efficient logistic for transplants in the city area. Dronlife-IFFE Group offers one integral service that is still under development, whereas the hospital network provides the medical infrastructure.
What about the competitors? They can easily come up with an idea like yours!
Cristina says they are not aware on competitors with a drone service like Dronlife, and the main competition comes from traditional way of transportation like helicopters, ambulances, etc. Anyhow, the drone is just a piece of technology, maybe it’s not the less important part of the project but the real added value is in the service (pilots, control station, safety procedures, organs container, protocols, and so on) and the container engineered on purpose not in the flying machine. Cristina tells me that the most critical parts of the development is the communication system, the autonomous navigation system, and the Cloud that shares information with hospitals involved in the project since all communication will be digital.
Yes, the Cloud! What about data security?
Flying a drone over a city with such a precious content can become a target for hackers trying to spoof communication and divert the drone or crash it down or shoot it. Cristina says it is a critical part of their job, to have clearance from the aviation authority. The other question about data is the one referred to the patients (donor and receptor), and this will be quite restrictive. Total confidentiality is compulsory.
Dear readers, let's keep an eye on DronLife! This project sounds amazing and it goes well beyond the sole development of robotics technology. It implies the development of a complex ecosystem of both technology and services to provide a real added value to the workflow of the client (the hospitals).
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Credits: images and video used in this post are taken from the Internet and DronLife website.