The smell of superglue immediately penetrates your nose when you enter. Various parts in plastic containers sorted against the wall. Here and there, PCB circuits are located on desks that are being worked on intensively. Each desk has at least one screen. And everywhere you stand there are drones hanging or lying around. Innovation Origins visits Avular in their office at the Mathildelaan. The company will be working with Vanderlande to ensure more accurate baggage handling with their Curiosity Core.
This is a modular robotics platform to which companies or developers can connect existing or new hardware. “It’s like the brain of a robot. We have developed a toolchain to which you can link all kinds of tasks, tools and different hardware. This can be completely different for each customer. The advantage is that we can make sure that applications work much faster.” tells Maas, one of the founders of the company.
Maas points to a robotic car – it is a bit like a Mars rover, but without a robotic arm – “This robotic vehicle has been completely prepared for driving in six weeks, it drives independently and, if desired, all kinds of sensors can be connected to it”. explains Maas. They are going to put this into practice with Vanderlande in a baggage handling system for airports, for example.
Accurate luggage trolleys
“We are going to integrate Core on Fleet (article in Dutch) of Vanderlande, which is a flexible and sustainable solution that makes use of autonomous vehicle technology. As a result, they no longer need any fixed sorting systems – such as baggage carousels- Each vehicle transports one piece of luggage and determines the optimal route through the airport. By linking this to our navigation systems, we make the control of luggage trolleys even more accurate.” says Maas. “Thanks to our sensors, the system always knows exactly where a vehicle is located; this can be inside – like the Vanderlande pilot – but also outside, or in a high-steel environment.”
Maas gets up and shows their newest acquisition: a square sensor with a white round sphere in the middle. “This sensor is extremely accurate, it has a deviation of less than one centimeter. By way of comparison, our most accurate system to date has a deviation of 15 centimeters. I can’t tell you exactly how it works, but it works with light signals that you can’t see.” With these sensors, Avular makes it possible to inspect bridges, scan products in a warehouse or map spaces. Maas: “We are now also working on developing a light show with drones working together, it’s all possible. The possibilities are endless.
Change of direction
When Avular started, they focused purely on developing a drone for inspection of large tankers. But because they had to overcome a lot of regulations – explosion risk, autonomous flying, and weight, to name just a few – they decided to change course. “We have come up against all the obstacles in recent years, and we have learned a great deal from them. We can now use this knowledge to help others. That knowledge is in our platform, so that companies no longer have to start from scratch.” This ‘next step’ didn’t turn out badly, with an investment of 1.5 million euros from Lumipol, the company now has room to grow. The team also participated for the second time in the accelerator program of HighTechXL.
To the question of whether they can still learn from this, there is an agreeing answer: ” Certainly, we are less stubborn and more open to advise. It is truly not the case that an accelerator is only of benefit to startups; it could also be beneficial to companies that have been operating for 20 years.” According to Maas, as a company you’re quickly ‘swallowed up’ by everyday reality: settling matters, solving setbacks and keeping up with the market. “As a result, you sometimes have a more limited eye for where you want to go as a company, the long-term plan will get overshadowed. An accelerator program can be very useful here. This will force you to think about the long-term.”
Another lesson he learned is that more is not always better: “From the typical startup mentality where you work through the middle of the night, with a pile of pizza boxes that’s getting higher and higher, we went to fixed times. This way you keep a better overview of what you are doing and there is more room for reflection.” Then laughing: “But surely, sometimes you have to peak and then you have those crazy working hours again. That variation is perfect.”
Photo: Bart van Overbeeke.