Is space the future of IoT? Tracking rhinos, ships, and wind farms by micro-satellite

space iot satellite

Is space the future of IoT? Australia-based Myriota has the world’s first low power, ultra-low cost global internet of things solution from space.

In this episode of TechFirst with John Koetsier, we’re chatting with VP of Engineering Steve Winnall about the company’s 20-pound suitcase-sized satellites and its ground-based IoT modules, which cost on the order of hundreds of dollars.

Scroll down for full audio, video, and a transcript of our conversation …

And, here’s the story on Forbes

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(This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity).

John Koetsier: Is space the future of the internet of things? Welcome to TechFirst with John Koetsier. Starlink just launched its expanded beta as an ISP, or internet service provider in the sky. But IoT, or internet of things, is a different kettle of fish, of course.

Australia-based Myriota says it has the world’s first low power, ultra-low cost, global IoT solution. To get all the details, we’re chatting with Steve Winnall, who’s the VP of Engineering at Myriota. Welcome, Steve! 

Steve Winnall: Hi, John. Great to be here. 

John Koetsier: Excellent, and good to have you. You’re halfway around the world. You are in Adelaide, Australia right now. I’m in Vancouver, Canada. Super pumped that we are chatting through the miracle of technology. But you have some very interesting technology and it’s in space.

Space is super hot right now, but why are you doing IoT from space? 

Steve Winnall: We’re excited to bring this new technology to the world.

So basically what we have is [an] affordable long battery life, high data rate, high security system that enables customers whether they’re on land, earth, or sea.

John Koetsier: Interesting. So, you’re doing that from space because you’re reaching out to — obviously at sea there’s no cellular networks — and you’re also doing spaces on earth that are very remote, I assume? 

Steve Winnall: That’s right, John. So existing systems are plagued with things like low battery life, or insecure data transmission, or the inability to work everywhere … so, out at sea, in remote areas, in cities. With the patented direct-to-orbit technology that Myriota has developed, we’re disrupting the IoT technology ecosystem by providing this high performance solution for everyone. 

John Koetsier: Cool. So traditional satellite orbits are quite high up, right? And you look at Starlink, that’s low earth orbit — that’s 500 kilometers, around 300 miles or something like that. Where are your satellites? 

Steve Winnall: Yeah, good question, John. So we’re up around the 500 mile mark and our satellites are the order of about 22 pounds. So quite tiny.

John Koetsier: Those are micro satellites. That’s absolutely tiny. That’s amazing!

Steve Winnall: Yeah, it’s pretty cool technology. What that enables us to do is be able to beam data from modules anywhere around the world, up to the satellite and then down to the cloud, so that you can get our data from the modules anywhere by your internet browser. 

John Koetsier: Interesting. So this is a satellite that you could carry in your hands. This is not a heavy satellite.   

Steve Winnall: Oh yeah, that’s right. Yeah, pretty cool, huh? 

John Koetsier: Wow. What kind of capability does it have? 

Steve Winnall: So it’s the capability with our direct-to-orbit technology of being able to provide end users with an ability to send data securely, and with battery life measured in years, up to the cloud so that they’re able to produce a great connection back from the module anywhere that is to their data center. 

John Koetsier: Mm-hmm. For the satellite itself, who’s your launch partner? How have you gotten them up to space? 

Steve Winnall: Yeah, we tend to use a ride-share technology. So as our growth plans continue throughout 2021, we’ll be continuing our launch program. 

John Koetsier: So you use multiple partners for that? 

Steve Winnall: That’s right, yes. 

John Koetsier: Okay. Interesting. And I’m curious, I don’t know if you have the answer here, but I know it’s been traditionally extremely expensive to get satellites in space — get anything in space — on the order of $10,000 a pound I think at one point with the space shuttle, maybe perhaps more. How much does it cost to get one of these Myriota satellites, IOT satellites, into space? 

Steve Winnall: Well, that’s one of the big drivers for us, is being able to provide affordable data to the rest of the world. So one of the things underpinning that is a low launch cost. NewSpace has been able to provide us with a very low launch cost capability and then we can pass it on to the end user. 

John Koetsier: Is that fits-on-a-credit-card type of cost to launch? Or is it a little bit more than that? 

Steve Winnall: Depends on the size of the credit card I guess, John. 

John Koetsier: Maybe not my credit card. Maybe Bill Gates’ credit card? 

Steve Winnall: Maybe a black one. But certainly the modules are the size of a credit card. 

John Koetsier: Okay. Okay, interesting. Well, let’s talk about some of the use cases then.  What are some of the common use cases that people do IoT via satellite with? 

Steve Winnall: Yeah, great question, John.

Imagine you’re a farmer and you have to travel each day 90 miles to check the water level in a water tank. We’re disrupting that with technology at the moment, so that the farmer is able to check the water level on his or her browser, so they don’t have to go drive all that way.

And then that’s going to really revolutionize things like farm management and water resource management in the future. That’s just one of the examples that we’re working on with our end users. 

John Koetsier: You’ve got a use case that you talk about in terms of wind farms, and you talk about saving a wind farm something like a huge number, like half a billion dollars a year. What’s that look like? How’s that work? And how are you accomplishing that? 

Steve Winnall: So, wind farms generate a lot of electricity, but they’re typically in remote areas away from urban areas. So we’ve partnered with Ping to provide a way of measuring the performance of the wind farm turbines and also make sure that the maintenance costs are low.

So an operator can then see if their wind farm turbine needs to be replaced or repaired. This amounts to huge savings, because each wind farm tower is about the order of $3-5 million in costs and a repair can be up to $300k each time. So, not to mention having to travel out to decommission the wind farm tower.

So what we’ve been able to do with Ping is remotely measure and provide that data and insight to the operators, saving them time and a lot of money. 

John Koetsier: Interesting. Tell me what are one or two of the most unusual use cases that you’ve seen so far? 

Steve Winnall: Well, at the moment, we’re partnering with people who can provide huge opportunity and impact.

But some of the conversations we’ve had in the past have been things like measuring ocean currents — so measuring temperatures and ocean currents underneath the ocean, and tracking things like turtle migration, or even rhinos in Africa.

John Koetsier: Oh, wow! Interesting. Would a rhino have its own Myriota little transmitter? 

Steve Winnall: Yeah, that’s right.  The data costs and module cost is so affordable that I think each one would be able to have their own special module. 

John Koetsier: Wow! So let’s say that I have a rhino — I don’t — but let’s say I have a rhino, and I want to get a Myriota module on the rhino so I can make sure that it’s safe, protected, nobody’s going to steal the horn, grind it up for aphrodisiac, whatever. How much does it cost for me to get a module and put it on there for a year? 

Steve Winnall: Well that’s a really exciting part of our technology, because we’ve scouted out and it just works. It’s the equivalent of a Raspberry Pi for IoT. So you can just get one of these modules off the website, and then you’re up and running in a few hours, getting data from anywhere earth, land, and sea … app to your browser.

John Koetsier: So, put a number on it. How much am I talking about? 

Steve Winnall: It’s relatively cheap. So, hundreds of dollars. 

John Koetsier: Okay. Okay. Interesting. And you’re very developer-friendly, right? I mean, you’ve got a whole developer platform. People are working on different solutions all the time, incorporating the technology?

Steve Winnall: That’s right. So we make it an effort to make it as easy as possible for our people developing with this technology, both by having a partner network, but then also providing a number of development tools and information  to customers, making their journey as easy as possible. 

John Koetsier: Okay. So let’s assume I’m the farmer and I’ve got a well that’s 90 kilometers, 90 miles away, whatever it is, and I put one of the Myriota solutions on it. How long can I just leave it there and not think about it? How long do the batteries last? 

Steve Winnall: Well, this is a big game changer for us.

Existing systems are plagued with low battery life and poor privacy and security. With a Myriota module, we’re disrupting that. We’ve spent a lot of time developing patented technology in the area of battery life. So for some of these applications, you’re talking years — up to 10 years, even more in the technology.

John Koetsier: Wow.

Steve Winnall: That results in huge savings for people like a farmer who don’t have to worry about the module. It’s set and forget.

John Koetsier: Wow, like a decade. Incredible. So you currently have three satellites in operation, correct?  

Steve Winnall: We’re rolling out satellites as we speak. So it’s pretty exciting as our growth plans continue. We’re moving into the U.S. in 2021, and along with that is an increase in the number of launches that we’re going to undertake.

John Koetsier: Okay. So what is the number? 

Steve Winnall: What’s the number … of satellites?

John Koetsier: Yes.

Steve Winnall: Yeah, so as we continue, we grow more and more. 

John Koetsier: Okay. Haha, you are very non-specific for numbers for a VP of Engineering. I hope that your calculations are more specific when you’re calculating weight and thrust and all those sorts of things. [laughter] Wow. I believe I read on your website that it was three right now.

And so, I’m guessing that since you’re in Australia you’re covering the southern hemisphere with that pretty well. And you’ve got line of sight or whatever, you know, maybe three, four times a day. Maybe more than that for individual installations so they can squirt up a few kilobytes — 20, 40, 100 kilobytes of data — ‘I’m fine. I’m fine.’ Or ‘There’s a problem.’ Those sorts of things. And as you add more then you’ll be global and be able to do the northern hemisphere? Is that correct? 

Steve Winnall: Actually, John, you know, that’s a really interesting part of these satellites because they have what’s called a ‘polar orbit.’ They traverse the world every one and a half hours, so we have the ability to have global coverage with these satellites at the moment. 

John Koetsier: Okay. Okay. Interesting. Excellent. Well, what was the date on that, that you plan to expand to the northern hemisphere or to the United States? 

Steve Winnall: Yeah, it’s not that long to go now. We’re looking forward to our launch in the U.S. and expansion of the market next year.

John Koetsier: Well, Steve, thank you for joining. Appreciate your time. Very interesting project. 

Steve Winnall: Thanks, John. My pleasure, and great to talk with you today. 

John Koetsier: Absolutely. For everybody else, thank you for joining us on TechFirst. My name is John Koetsier. Appreciate you being along for the show. You’ll be able to get a full transcript of this in about a week, or maybe three days, The story comes out at Forbes just after that. And the full video is always available on my YouTube channel. Thank you for joining, maybe share with a friend. Until next time, this is John Koetsier with TechFirst.