We talked to Kaitlyn Albertoli and Vik Chaudhry of Buzz Solutions about safeguarding the world’s energy infrastructure using AI-based actionable insights.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Buzz Solutions.
Kaitlyn Albertoli: I graduated from Stanford with coursework in economics, finance, and psychology. I have previous experience working in finance. Prior to Buzz, I also ran a non-profit for sustainable food, employing 60 people, and overseeing the needs of 300 people.
Vik Chaudhry: I graduated with a Master’s degree from Stanford University, focusing on energy engineering and data science, machine learning, and AI technologies for the energy sector, specifically in smart grid technologies, demand response, clean energy technology, and energy efficiency. Prior to launching Buzz, I was leading Machine Learning and AI teams at Cisco Systems. During my Master’s degree research, I was working on a technology to use drones to inspect and optimize wind turbines’ locations using Machine Learning and AI. This was the initial idea and technology for Buzz Solutions.
We met in an entrepreneurial launchpad course at Stanford University in Spring 2017. During the course, we discussed the idea of leveraging the research that Vik was working on and applied that to the power utility inspection sector. Due to complementary skill sets and experience as well as mutual enthusiasm for disrupting the energy sector with innovative technologies, We founded Buzz Solutions in April 2017 and have been working on it to help power companies maintain their power infrastructure, prevent power lines from going down, and mitigating wildfire dangers.
How does Buzz Solutions innovate?
Kaitlyn Albertoli: Buzz Solutions safeguards the world’s energy infrastructure by providing AI-based actionable insights and predictive analytics for power lines, power infrastructure, and grid inspections. Our software platform is powered by AI and Machine Vision for fault detection on assets, critical infrastructure, and vegetation management, with insights and analytics into where and when those faults are happening/can happen in the future. Our solutions save 50% on costs for manual data management/analysis for power utilities and an additional $3-$6MM per year per utility in our outage-predicting Predictive Asset Management system. Our time savings include 6-8 months of manual data processing lag time, which is critical when a powerline can go down, an outage can happen, or a wildfire can ignite due to failed grid infrastructure. Buzz Solutions aims to prevent power outages and wildfires by making power infrastructure more smart, stable, and resilient.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Vik Chaudhry: In many respects, the coronavirus pandemic has further enforced a need for remote sensing and analytics in this more traditional market. Given that utilities are such an important business, infrastructure inspections are a critical component to keeping the grid up and running. We are in the midst of a digital transformation today, with many large utilities drastically increasing their data capture with drones and helicopters in addition to transitioning from on-prem storage to cloud-based solutions. This opens up an opportunity for more in-depth analytics solutions, such as Buzz Solutions, cutting down on the time of manual analysis and helping utilities focus their efforts on maintenance. The coronavirus pandemic has created an even faster transition to these digital solutions.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Kaitlyn Albertoli: Yes, in the early days of our company, we planned to tackle both the drone inspections as well as the analytics. However, we discovered in the first few months that the utility sector is quite unique in that each utility tackles its inspection processes differently, either with helicopters, drones, or fixed-wing aircraft as a part of the inspection process. At Buzz, our real value add is on the analytics side. Therefore, we made a pivot early on based on market receptivity to focus solely on the analytics piece and partner with the drone and helicopter companies for data acquisition. The lesson learned here was to be adaptive and receptive to market demands. We continuously evaluate where we stand in the market and where we bring the biggest competitive differentiation. This is where we dedicate the bulk of our resources in order to improve our competitive advantage and differentiation.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Vik Chaudhry: Our competitors include drone inspection operations companies that are trying to get into the analytics space as well as asset management companies. However, Buzz Solutions differentiates itself through expertise in AI and analytics technologies for the power sector. Our AI solutions provide the highest degree of accuracy and the most amount of fault detections for transmission and distribution power lines. We are also able to work with multiple visual data sources that can be incoming from different drones, helicopters, or fixed-wing aircrafts. Furthermore, our historical proprietary data sets pertaining to the power industry have enabled us to build novel Predictive Asset Management systems that provide an insight into forecasting the power lines’ health into the future. This brings enormous value to our customers to be able to take action on mitigating potential problems ahead of time. Finally, all these differentiating factors have led us to be chosen by some of the major power utilities in the US over the rest of the players in the market.
Your final thoughts?
Kaitlyn Albertoli: The key to modernizing our aging energy infrastructure lies in leveraging innovative technologies such as software, AI, and analytics to map our physical infrastructure into the digital world. This digital transformation within our utility sector will not only help in making more informed data-driven decisions but also in effectively forecasting and predicting the health of our infrastructure assets into the future.
Leveraging this approach through software and AI will create even greater systemic opportunities. Every day the power sector becomes less reactive and more proactive towards both chronic and acute problems on the grid. Here’s to the future of technology and to enabling predictive support of our electrical infrastructure. From data collection to analysis and reporting, ensuring a safe and reliable power grid is indeed critically important, even when we don’t think about it.
Buzz Solutions is one of the players at the forefront of leading this transformation in the energy sector. During Covid times, there is ever more need to leverage remote sensing and AI technologies to inspect and maintain our power infrastructure and keep the lights on.
Attached below are more media outlets (such as Forbes, WSJ, T&D World, etc.) that have featured our work:
· Datanami: AI Startup Aims to Extinguish Wildfires
· Wallstreet Journal: VC Daily: AI Startup Aims to Prevent Wildfires
· Silicon Valley Business Journal: Buzz Solutions uses AI to watch for power line fire hazards