Neuron soundware helps conquer space, thanks to incubation in ESA BIC tests satellites
The Czech startup Neuron soundware, which develops solutions for automatic maintenance based on sound and vibration analysis of machines, has not only penetrated abroad, but also the frontiers of space. The technology combining IoT and artificial intelligence is mostly used on machines in factories or on escalators to avoid unplanned downtime. Two years ago, the startup also caught the attention of the European Space Agency’s space incubator (ESA BIC), which focuses on linking research from space technology to Earth, and vice-versa. It has started using sound analysis in a project to prepare for a pre-flight test of small satellites. For the Czech startup, this was a potential entry point into the space sector; for example,acoustic detection technology could help astronauts prevent malfunctions on spacecraft or stations in the future.
Neuron soundware technology involves listening to the sounds of machines, and then using artificial intelligence to evaluate the sound patterns. It can then provide early warning of anomalies; for example, the onset of a component failure. This function enables real-time monitoring of machine status, optimising maintenance and downtime and ensuring that all machines receive alerts about impending failure.. A computer or mobile device performs these actions remotely, eliminating the need for physical inspections that might lead to additional downtime. The reliability of space technology is a prerequisite for the successful expansion of humanity into space.
From factories to space
However, Neuron soundware has much broader applications than simply maintaining production machines. In fact, vibration analysis can also be used for quality control or optimizing production management across industries. Two years ago, the company decided to enter the space sector. It joined ESA BIC in Prague, where it is now testing its technology for quality control and preparation for pre-flight testing of small space satellites, called cubesats, which will, for example, image the Earth.
“Our technology has an incredibly diverse range of applications, and space is an area where we see huge potential for its use. We are now testing the base plates of cubesats to see if they can withstand the wild vibrations of launching a launch vehicle into space. But testing cubesats is just the beginning for us, and one day we would like to see our technology in space. For example, it could be used to monitor the health of individual components of a life support system such as air conditioning, recycling systems or space station cooling. For example, the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) centre, where NASA and other partners are testing conditions on Mars, has expressed interest. Detecting potential failures of these systems early and minimizing the risk of loss of life will be essential for space colonization,” says Pavel Konečný, founder of Neuron soundware.
Up to 100 companies are in the potential market in the EU alone
Successful validation of the device’s functionality could really help the company break into the huge world of space probe manufacturing. Testing in certified labs equipped for large satellites is expensive. For many smaller companies and universities, the desktop test equipment developed by Neuron soundware is sufficient to test cubesats that often weigh only kilograms. It consists of a so-called shaker that simulates rocket launches and other mechanical tests, as well as a recording device from Neuron soundware. Everything is connected to an online platform for collecting, managing and analysing the resulting data. Tests so far look encouraging.
“We first ensured that our equipment complies with the technical requirements for pre-flight and developmental checks and then we have already started testing. Normally, cubesats are tested on large, expensive machines, which are also designed for huge satellites, and there are a limited number of these. We manage testing in a fraction of the time and cost, yet at least as reliably. So the tests are proceeding as planned and the project is heading towards a successful conclusion. Success would open the door to potentially 50 to 100 manufacturers of these small space exploration devices in the European Union alone,” says Konečný.
“The space sector requires the most advanced technologies not only directly on space satellites, but also in testing and quality control. If your air conditioning or heating breaks down on Earth, you can handle it. But in space, it’s a matter of survival. That’s why we are constantly seeking and supporting solutions that take the reliability and quality of these devices even further. What we particularly appreciate about Neuron soundware solutions is the speed of testing compared to traditional test labs that have long waiting times and become a bottleneck in device production. Neuron soundware technology allows us to speed up the process and at the same time significantly reduce costs,” says Michal Kuneš, Program Manager at ESA BIC’s Czech office.
“Neuron soundware is another of more than 34 promising startups in the Czech ESA incubation centre. The Czech Republic is home to many talented engineers and visionaries, both in the space sector and in the technology sector in general. The Neuron soundware team was able to take their seemingly unrelated technology and demonstrate its applicability to space applications,” says Michal Bambušek from CzechInvest, the operator of the ESA BIC incubator in the Czech Republic.