Defy-Hi– Revolutionising Building Façade Inspections

December 19th, 2023

CSIRO Lindfield Collaboration Hub resident Defy-Hi is rewriting the playbook for safer and smarter building facade inspections, blending cutting-edge hardware with AI and software as a service (SAAS) solutions. Their vision is to revolutionise an industry rife with risks and poor data governance.

In the conventional world of facade inspections, workers often abseil down the building trying to find defects manually. Even though workers are trained and careful, occasionally, accidents happen. Reports of defects are often incomplete, and there is no way to go back and check as there is no comprehensive digital record. More importantly, it’s difficult for large portfolio property owners to manage these defects and risks across a large number of property assets.

Dr Abbie Widin, Co-Founder and CEO and her team at Defy-Hi are on a mission to replace these outdated methods through the development of their Inspector BEAR (Building Envelope Access Robot) and AI defect detection tools.

When Defy-Hi embarked on their journey in 2020, they had a window cleaning business and were looking for a safer, more efficient method of cleaning the windows on high rise buildings.

The opportunity to join the CSIRO Connect@Lindfield program came along, which is typically geared for researchers seeking a market fit. However, Defy-Hi brought a unique twist by arriving with a market need in search of the right technology.

They had acquired the assets of a Finnish window cleaning robot company but when the product wasn’t fit for purpose, they decided to create one themselves. Abbie explains, “While we hadn’t built hardware products before, I had been involved in managing multi-functional product teams, including R&D at Fortune 50 companies previously.” They leveraged the makerspace and other workshop facilities at CSIRO Lindfield. “The facilities for us are unsurpassed and they have been instrumental in our success as a startup. With access to essential resources such as 3D printers, soldering stations, and a variety of tools, we gained a strong foothold in the early stages. Without CSIRO Lindfield, we wouldn’t have been able to even get started.”

With a solid prototype and commercial interest, Defy-Hi then secured funding from the New South Wales Government’s Physical Sciences Fund. This boost allowed them to expand their team and create jobs in various domains. “We’ve been able to create a number of roles in mechanical engineering, software, mechatronics software, but also more on the SAAS software side contributing to the growth of the robotics and hardware sector.” They’ve also opened their doors to students and interns, providing them with invaluable development opportunities.

The unique flexibility of CSIRO Lindfield has proved to be an unconventional testing facility for the Inspector BEAR. Abbie describes their testing process, saying, “Now when we develop a new functionality on our robot, we’re able to test it in our workshop, then take it down to one of the CSIRO courtyards and once it passes those functional tests, we then take it up to the roof on a CSIRO building where we can test it at heights. And only then does it go out onto the actual commercial building.”

Their connection with CSIRO’s Data61 in Queensland has further accelerated their expertise. The informal collaboration has been a two-way street, with experts flying down from Brisbane to test different approaches on a commercial building, pushing the boundaries of understanding for both parties.

Following participation in Australia’s Startmate Accelerator, Defy-Hi’s focus remains on expanding their robot’s reach, refining their AI and SAAS platform, and nurturing the right team and culture. Their hiring strategy seeks individuals who are intrinsically motivated, team-oriented, and already competent in their domains, allowing them to move swiftly and gather commercial feedback from the market.

What does the future hold for Defy-Hi? As we all know, hardware-enabled SaaS is hard. But as Abbie says, it’s easy to dream about a big future. “But the reality is, you have to take it step by step. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”