It started with a dream to use robots to revolutionise the way companies operate, and it’s now been four years since they pooled their savings to make that dream a reality, a move that Hafslund Nett calls ‘a quantum leap’.
‘I thought I’d end up in a normal job,’ says Håkon Kjerkreit (30), who hails from Trøndelag, a county in central Norway. He is leaning against the wall in a small workshop in Forus, an industrial area outside Stavanger, also known as the oil capital of Norway. On the floor of the workshop sits a large drone, which is being assembled by one of the skilled technicians at KVS Technologies. This is no ordinary drone though.
Four years ago, Håkon was still a student at the University of Stavanger, together with co-founder Steffen Solberg (31). It had never crossed his mind that he would start his own company someday, but he remembers being interested in working with his hands.
‘We made and operated ROVs in school,’ Håkon recalls with a smile. An ROV is a remotely operated underwater vehicle which is used offshore.
‘We started building an operating system that could run different robots and drones,’ says Cato Vevatne (31), the third and last of the three co-founders. ‘There isn’t that much of a difference whether they operate underwater or on the ground once you’ve figured it out.’
Cato had already graduated and found a full-time job when he and his two friends decided to strike out on their own. It took a little trial and error and many months of not drawing a salary before the trio decided on what they would specialize in: power grid inspections with the help of autonomous drones.
KVS Technologies has steered away from traditional remote control, choosing instead to develop technology that automates drones, such that they operate independently as they check the power grids. The drones are able to recognise power lines and masts thanks to artificial intelligence.
Drones in containers
KVS Technologies is on the cusp of a breakthrough. Power company Hafslund Nett, which recently merged with Eidsiva Nett to form Elvia, has just signed an innovation contract with KVS to test drones on a large scale in the eastern part of Norway.
‘This represents a quantum leap,’ says Arild Haugen, director of grid operations at Hafslund.
Haugen’s job is to oversee operations and emergency response for the company’s power grids in the eastern counties of Oslo, Akershus and Østfold. He believes that using KVS Technologies’ drone technology could save his company millions.
‘However, increasing our own reliability as a service provider is worth more than that,’ says Haugen.
A large container sits outside the KVS Technologies office. This has been converted into a drone hangar, which functions as a home base for the drone when it is on assignment. The hangar opens up, and a drone ascends from within. In the event of a power outage, the drone can cruise over the power grid and localize the error. This would be a lot more efficient than conducting a manual inspection. Hafslund Nett plans to have between four and seven of these drone hangars to cover the power grids in the three eastern counties.
‘Imagine how much faster troubleshooting with a drone would be, as opposed to sending a team out who have to walk on foot in deep snow,’ says Haugen.
The drones fly autonomously at high speeds over the power grid, taking thousands of photos as they go. These photos are then sent back to a control room for analysis.
‘There are other companies offering drone services, but to date we haven’t found a technology that’s nearly as good as this one,’ says Haugen.
Share issue and international expansion
Haugen’s affirmative words are a validation to Cato and the company’s chairman Arild Austigard. KVS Technologies has plans in the pipeline to expand in the coming years, and the current focus is on the international market.
‘We’re aiming for a turnover of 100 million kroner by 2022. But more importantly, we’d like to establish our position in the market,’ says Cato Vevatne.
The company is planning a share issue in order to finance this expansion.
‘We’re considering different alternatives, and our final decision will define the amount of capital we need. In any case, we’re aiming for a share issue in the second quarter of 2020,’ says Austigard.
The Austigard family, best known for having built up Øglænd System, is the largest shareholder in KVS Technologies after the three founders, who own close to 60 per cent of the shares in the company today. In 2018, KVS Technologies had a turnover of 13.7 million kroner with a profit before tax of 1.9 million kroner.
This article was originally published in Norwegian in Dagens Næringsliv in December 2019.