Versor AS – autonomous drones for indoor industrial inspections

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In 2017, when the Versor project was awarded STUD-ENT funding, the team consisted of Erlend Sierra (29), Christer Mathiesen (27) and Eirik Worren Legernæs (26). The project is affiliated with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Erlend Sierra has prior experience as a business developer for a start-up enterprise in the area of Big Data, and just recently completed a Master’s degree at NTNU School of Entrepreneurship. Christer Mathiesen and Eirik Worren Legernæs have held summer internships with the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI). Mathiesen has also held an internship with Kongsberg Maritime and just completed a Master’s degree in cybernetics and robotics at NTNU.

What is the customer problem and how can it be solved?

In simple terms, we are developing a system for automating industrial inspections in indoor environments using drones that can orient themselves autonomously within their surroundings. Automation is one of the major priorities of the industrial sector and will yield significant savings for industrial firms in terms of costs, use of time, downtime and HSE. These robotic drones can access locations that are out of reach or inaccessible to humans. In addition, the drones are able to perform repetitive operations systematically and effectively.

Automating drones for indoor use is extremely difficult, and one of the main challenges with robots is to know where they are in a given environment at all times. To solve this problem, we employ a navigation system that enables the drone to know its exact location without the use of external systems, which is a prerequisite for truly automated inspection assignments. Our entry market in this connection is for indoor inspections of industrial tankers within the maritime and petroleum sectors.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship and Versor?

We want to invest in this idea because there is a proven need for such a solution, and we also believe that our team has the necessary competence to bring it to the market. Our group was formed when we understood how well we complement each other in terms of expertise and personally, and saw that we have a shared attitude towards solving problems. We are committed to this task and will not give up until we have found the solution. We are very appreciative for the chance to work with something we are passionate about.

What will support from the Research Council mean for you?

It means a great deal. We have been working diligently and systematically on this project alongside our Master’s studies and now we have come up with suitable industrial customers and partners interested in implementing our system. They expect us to validate the technical concept – preferably as soon as possible. In this connection, we have brought in talented individuals who can help us to advance, and our CTO already has a shopping list of equipment and sensors for us to procure.

What knowledge does the project build on and how is NTNU involved?

The project is based on knowledge accumulated during our studies, in particular in robotics and software development, as well as on relevant work experience related to navigation, drones and entrepreneurship. NTNU helps out primarily by providing academic and entrepreneurship mentors, and they have also given us access to test facilities where we can run indoor flights.

What did you think about the application process?

Our experience with the application process was very positive. There were very clear guidelines both for what is required of the application and for what is expected of us. A special thank you goes to our contact person at the Research Council who was very helpful whenever we had questions about the call for proposals or the grant application.

We also think it has been extremely beneficial for the company that we applied for STUD-ENT funding, as the work we did prior to writing our proposal has been valuable in charting which path to take forward. The most important tip we have for future applicants relates to exactly that point: if you do good preparatory work you will find that writing the actual grant proposal is not very difficult. Effective market research may also help you to identify any weaknesses in your business model that you will inevitably have to confront at a later point. Instead of trying to sidestep these issues, you should spend time examining potential ways to solve them. At the very least, it will lead to constructive feedback from the referee panel.

The presentation to the referee panel is to explain in greater detail the efforts included in the grant application, so make sure you get the most important points across. Even though it may seem daunting to present your project before a panel of experts, remember that they are primarily interested in finding out how well you have thought through all the elements that are emphasised. It is normal not to have an answer for everything in the early phases, so you should focus on what you are planning to discover or resolve any ambiguities or potential risks. The feedback we received after funding was allocated was valuable as well, both for the constructive comments we received from the panel and, not least, for the affirmation that we as a team can succeed with the project.

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