“Inspections will be one of the main segments for drone applications”

Interview Nicolas Chibac, born in 1980 in Flensburg, began working freelance directly after completing school and his civil service, worked for approximately ten years in tourist advertising and travelled to around 50 countries. He is the cofounder and CEO of the company SpiceVR, Spherie and the Virtual Reality Headquarters with a total of 25 employees and based in the Speicherstadt historical warehouse district in Hamburg.

Mr Chibac, you first founded Spherie, then SpiceVR, with your brother, which HHLA has a 25 percent stake in. What led to you filming with drones and then specialising in the development of drone technology?After my time in advertising for tourism destinations worldwide, my brother and I wanted to break new ground in 360° filming by founding our company SpiceVR. To do this, we built 360° cameras ourselves using the 3D printer and GoPros. Based on the functioning self-built 360° cameras, I developed the concept for an invisible 360° drone. 

At the internet conference re:publica in Berlin I met the founder of Wingcopter from Darmstadt. Alongside Jonathan Hesselbarth, I developed the first prototype of the drone that we registered a patent for and because it worked, we founded Spherie. We made it into the final of the internationally renowned technology festival South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin/Texas and received innovation funding from Hamburg’s development bank (IFB [Hamburgische Innovations und Förderbank]).

Then we came into contact with HHLA whose investment in our company in 2018 enabled us to take our development further, in projects like 3D scans of container gantry cranes and digital twins in the form of an interactive 3D model of the Speicherstadt historical warehouse district. “HHLA’s investment is important in developing our technology further – one of the things we have done is increase flight time from three minutes to 25 minutes and we are also working with a significantly smaller drone.”

What makes Spherie stand out and where do you see the most potential for your drones?
We’re very technology-driven and are continually developing our drones. We can now create fully spherical moving images that give an amazing view of the world. We can navigate our drones through spaces like flying cameras on tripods and film with a resolution of up to 8k – and can change the perspective later. In an indoor image, I can place myself at any point in the room using VR and look in all directions. Where we see the biggest business case in the long term is drones flying autonomously and making fully spherical 3D recordings of the surrounding area. For inspections, 3D models or to build digital twins.

Which business models do you think are plausible in the industrial area?
In the outdoor area, I’m sure that inspections will be one of the main segments for drone applications. Places that are difficult for people to get to and where industrial climbers are required, such as industrial facilities. Due to its small dimensions and panoramic view, our Spherie drone is suitable for this and also for indoor areas, and really stands out from the competition.

Our aim is for the drone to fly completely autonomously one day, especially in places where people don’t want to go: tunnels, pipes, sewer systems. Or where you have to be quick and the same things have to be recorded again and again. We will be able to inspect all of these places more efficiently and more accurately in future. With a solid background in advertising and tourism we are moving steadily towards more industrial applications.

How do you see the drone situation in Hamburg?
Hamburg is a drone cluster area with many activities. The opportunities for our city are the Port of Hamburg and the industrial sector, especially because public acceptance is not always necessary in these areas. Data protection is an important topic: nobody wants drones permanently flying around on their doorstep. Interesting drones in the field of transport are being made in Germany, such as Wingcopter.

However, I don’t consider Germany to be the largest market for transport drones. Our infrastructure is much too good for that and population density is too high – unlike in the U.S. or Africa where distant locations can be better reached by drone. Many companies from Hamburg are also discovering the advantages of filming with drones. For instance, we flew through the production facilities of Garz & Fricke in Hamburg and came out with some spectacular images.

Was the ITS World Congress in Hamburg a success for Spherie?
The interaction was important, also at our booth. We also created explanatory animations and 360° flights to the sites in Hamburg for all the mobility projects presented. Even after the congress, you can still travel virtually to the Hamburg projects.

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