As can currently be seen in many places in Europe and even in Berlin, forest fires continue to pose a threat. How could AI help to improve fire management? The Berlin-based start-up Robbi provides a possible solution: the product prevents natural disasters by using AI and robotics with insights in real time. We spoke to co-founder Jhorman Pérez.
Hello Jhorman! Thank you for taking the time for this interview! Summer came with a bang this year – do you have any tips for coping with the heat? What is your favourite spot in Berlin during hot days?
Well, I come from quite a warm place as well in Colombia -Cúcuta. I can say this has been my by-default weather during my whole life. I guess my suggestion is stay yourself fresh: easy clothes, lemonade, and iced coffee, that works. In Berlin, I like to visit the lakes, let it be Schlachtensee or I’d really like to try Wannsee, not the best Berliner if I don’t swim there. And, good barbecues with friends over a nice sunset, always with music!
How did you come up with the idea of inventing Robbi and why was such an invention needed in your eyes?
It all started with the feeling of doing something meaningful to solve the biggest problems we have on our planet. Wildfires were already one of those; it's a very sad scenario to see, and frustrating to notice it doesn't improve, and me doing nothing about it. That had been in my mind for quite a while, and I imagined there was a way to use my passion on autonomous robotics and AI to contribute in some way. Eventually, I met my co-founder, Andrés, with whom there is a shared mindset on high impact and innovative tech, and that's Robbi. Together, that commitment translates now into the product we have for wildfire prevention.
Robbi can prevent wildfire. How exactly does it do that and how does the AI work?
At Robbi we provide insights for wildfire prevention by inspecting forests using robotics and AI. Our software running AI gets data from different sensors and identifies risks that could start a wildfire in the inspected areas. Our technology combines deep learning, computer vision and sensor fusion at different stages, which let us spot risks that could start or increase a wildfire, such as fire-prone vegetation, its health condition or dangerous elements around it. We immediately assess the state of the forest area and suggest prevention actions to mitigate the threat.
For over years and decades forests have either been destroyed to provide agricultural space or burnt down through fire, Robbi on the other hand helps preventing wildfire and protecting forests. Why did you decide to concentrate on forests for your mission to “create a better tomorrow”?
The environmental, social and economic effect related to the destruction of forests is huge, measured in many millions of assets, species, and health issues, it breaks everything down. Forests are life, and taking care of this part of the ecosystem contributes towards our mission. This is a starting point and we’d like later on to tackle additional challenges to build up a resilient and better future through new tech solutions.
Is Robbi meant to be available for the public or rather just for institutions like fire department etc?
We are enabling public and private sectors to use our technology. So that means forest owners/managers/investors, insurance, or local governments alongside the forest and fire services. Generally, anyone concerned about forests can use our product.
What kind of challenges were you facing during the development process?
The testing stages have had their tricky part. You need to get access to forests in order to go there and use a drone to inspect them. We've been able to solve it through our partners and pilot customers. And, well, it’s not a trivial problem, our technology is powerful, but requires some effort and time.
Why did you decide to start Robbi in Germany, particularly in Berlin?
My co-founder Andrés and I met here in Berlin, and we found that there are multiple opportunities, especially from the government, to support innovation and startups. That includes grants, which we have been able to access, in addition to a very dynamic, open and international ecosystem and culture. We actually have international impact because of the topics we’re working on, so we try to connect with dedicated initiatives linking Berlin startups with other markets, like the US. There is also alignment between our topic and EU plans for example in AI, autonomous systems, and climate change. And a plus: Germany has got a good reputation as the home base for product development.
Berlin is THE tech center of Europe. What do you see for the future of the location?
Many more startups will take over Berlin, in different stages and sizes, and focused on solving a good variety of problems. I think there is a competitive pressure on pushing the economy and allocating more funding to support innovation here that in the end will benefit the startup ecosystem and better life opportunities. Startup networks are getting better connected, that’ll make it easier to boost intersecting innovation.
Thank you for your time!