How API-K connects the mountain to facilitate the work of rescuers

In remote massifs, not always covered by a network and difficult to access, geosecurity tools save lives. The French company API-K is tackling this challenge. The start-up, located on the Savoie Technolac campus, designs integrated solutions to deploy networks of connected objects and security solutions dedicated to the mountains.

Since 2018, API-K has been working on mountain safety issues. The company designs equipment based on LoRa technology, a low-speed, long-range radio communication technology initially created by engineers from the Grenoble start-up Cycleo, and since acquired by Semtech. It is capable of reaching a perimeter of 10 kilometers and up to 6 meters deep.

While the use of LoRa technology is a differentiator for API-K, the company has the specificity of also mixing other technologies to make its products more efficient. The beacons therefore also work on the Sigfox and GSM networks, the objective being to “maximize the possibility of being heard by one of the networks that we operate”, indicates Fabien Philippe, CTO of API-K, to ZDNet.

“Transforming a spatial problem into a temporal problem”

In areas that are sometimes poorly covered, or even not covered at all, by the network, the API-K technical team aspires to “transform a spatial problem into a temporal problem”, explains the CTO. In the event of an accident, it happens that a victim is heard by someone who does not necessarily have a network to relay the information immediately. We must therefore succeed in delivering information in order, ultimately, to bring in help. “If there is a LoRa or Sigfox network, you will be heard by one or the other. If you have a GSM network, you will also be heard,” he says.

Beacons are like real connected objects and can also communicate with each other when the situation requires it. “Inter-beacon communications are important, it allows trackers to search for each other without depending on a network in the ski areas”, notes Fabien Philippe.

The FIND-R tool developed by API-K is also based on this principle, since it is able to enter into communication with beacons in the field. For the CTO, this equipment meets both the needs of the rescue teams, but also those of the operators of the territories who want to provide rescue locally in the absence of any network. Imagine instead: if you find yourself in a mountain range, without a precise position and with little available network, a FIND-R could allow you to enter into communication with a beacon located between 5 and 10 kilometers away.

“Very quickly, this allows the rescuers to cover the whole of the massif. It’s a huge differentiator,” says the technical director. Especially since high mountain rescue is expensive and exposes professionals to high risks. “When you have a helicopter that flies for 10 days looking for someone who has no chance of being found alive, the environmental and human cost is great. The wish is to reduce the time it takes to find a person, ”says Fabien Philippe.

B to C market outlets

Strategically, API-K had to review its “go to market” in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The company advanced the development of its consumer solutions, when ski resorts found themselves forced to close ski lifts and postpone their investments. The young shoot is thus preparing to market in the spring a beacon stamped B to C, intended for individuals looking for geolocation solutions for their hikes, alone or within the framework of outdoor sporting events, such as trails, mountain biking or more ski tours.

The 88 gram case, which has an autonomy of 24 hours in activity, is sold at a price of 349 euros. This price, relatively comparable to that of a DVA (avalanche victim detector), is justified by the R & D necessary to manufacture it, supports the CTO. On the software part, the technical team worked very upstream to provide a product that holds up. On the hardware side, API-K claims a product almost “made in Rhône-Alpes”, with the exception of the component layer.

Finally, to develop its business more broadly, API-K must invest in the “smart mountain”. As a LoRaWAN operator, the company deploys the network where there is none on the Alpine arc. After France, the company intends to export its technology internationally, first to Europe, then to the North American market “within a year and a half”, specifies Fabien Philippe.

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