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VHive, an Israeli startup that provides software to help off-the-shelf drones create digital twins, has raised $25 million in series B funding. The company focuses on software that improves site surveys, data analysis and report generation workflows. Current customers include wireless telecom operators, construction companies and commercial insurance companies, such as Bechtel, Deutsche Telekom, Phoenix Tower International and SBA.

VHive CEO and cofounder Yariv Geller told VentureBeat he started the company with Tomer Daniel after seeing how the manufacturing industry used digital twins to improve product designs. He realized there was a way that the combination of low-cost drones and better software could provide similar benefits at a macro level for cell towers, construction sites and any other sizeable physical asset. 

A key differentiator of VHive’s software compared to existing drone platforms is its data and analytics pipeline for converting a monolithic 3D model of a cell tower or crane into a semantically labeled digital twin representing individual objects, defects and other relevant phenomena. For example, a wireless mobile network operator (MNO) needs labels for assets like antennas and supporting equipment and for wear such as rust, frayed wires and missing bolts. 

An ongoing record can help engineers prioritize repair work for the most problematic site while keeping an eye on aging that needs to be fixed down the road. In addition, VHive delivers information through a web application, reducing the need to install additional software. 

Automating workflows

They started with a focus on the mobile industry, in which mobile network operators must conduct regular surveys of thousands of cell tower sites. The typical approach is sending a tower climber to scale the tower to check for problems. Some towers can reach 300-feet, which presents safety issues. 

The VHive software automates flight planning and data analysis for various commercial drones. A single drone can survey the site in a fraction of the time of a human and uses photogrammetry to convert 2D camera images into a 3D reconstruction. Operators can set the scale from a few centimeters down to a millimeter, which provides better resolution, but with an increased flight time. 

This allows the telco to build an online portfolio of their telco sites to improve the record-keeping process and compare what has been built with what was planned and what is listed in the asset management database

The analysis can also help improve existing equipment inventory that ensures teams show up with the right equipment for repairs, which reduces the repeat trips to pick up missing parts. In addition, the survey can also help assess the existing space for adding or upgrading equipment. An engineer can look at the existing tower and compare measurements and mounting angles for all the equipment. 

Tower operators can also survey the tower itself as part of maintenance and inventory the equipment installed on a given tower. The operators provide a real estate service for hosting equipment installed and managed by the MNOs. Geller said some inspections revealed a 40% discrepancy between what was listed in the contract and what was actually installed. An actual physical record can help build consensus between MNOs and tower operators when questions arise about what is actually installed.

Expanding into other industries

The actual data capture side is fairly generic. The tricky part comes with customizing the process of translating raw physical data into useful digital twins for each industry. Geller said, “Every vertical has its own analytics and semantics, which requires a good and deep understanding addressing the right use case. Expanding into new industries requires a methodical approach where you attack one vertical after another rather than try [to] create a digital twin solution that does everything.” 

VHive expanded into crane inspection after construction giant Bechtel showed interest in the new workflow. In Bechtel’s case, they had to shut down a crane for a monthly site inspection, which cost thousands of dollars in downtime and a lengthy site visit. Bechtel worked with VHive to develop a workflow that allows a drone to inspect the crane in about 20 minutes without having to bring it down to the ground. This reduced downtime and allowed the site inspectors to review the 3D model from their office. 

Geller said they are also starting to support some workflows in the insurance industry, but this is still an early area for VHive. Down the road, he hopes to replicate these same types of workflows across other industries, such as renewable energy and construction. 

PSG led the $25 million series B funding round with support from previous investors Octopus Ventures and Telekom Innovation Pool. This brings total funding to $36.5 million, including support from StageOne Ventures.

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