Technology has made incredible progress in the past few years. It makes our lives faster, simpler, and easier than ever. Even the way we park and drive our cars has become effortless thanks to sensitive motion detectors and sensors.
Unfortunately, there never seems to be the perfect solution. Even these innovative sensors can become dirty or clogged, which renders them ineffective or, worse, useless!
That is where Actasys comes in to save the day. This innovative automotive marketing start-up is working towards creating high-pressure directional jets that will help keep those sensors working sensationally.
I spoke to Miles Flamenbaum, the CEO of Actasys, about their work, their manufacturing processes, and even how they’re planning to licence their brand-new solution to OEMs. If you’d like to join the conversation and learn more about how entrepreneurial creativity is the invaluable skill of the day, then follow along!
How did you get involved with Actasys?
Actasys was founded at the end of 2013. Its original focus was both generally in the field of aerodynamics, but more specifically doing things that were supported by government and state grants. I joined as an adviser in 2017 and then became CEO at the beginning of 2018. And it was around that time that we pivoted towards sensor cleaning. So that’s Actasys 2.0. I’m, if you will, the founder of the second act of Actasys. Our primary focus since that point has been on sensor cleaning with some other applications all rooted in some relationship to aerodynamics.
Why does sensor cleaning on cars need to change?
There have been two significant trends that have developed over the past couple of years within the automotive sector. One is electrification, the movement to electric platforms for power, and secondly, what I call sensorfication, which according to the dictionary is not a word, but I’m determined to make it one, So please share it!
With sensorfication now, there has become more reliance and interdependence by the car manufacturers, on the success and deployment of optical sensors. So previously, if the backup camera on your car was dirty, it was inconvenient, but it wasn’t mission-critical. The driver could put the car in park, go out and wipe the camera. You’re now getting to points where the vehicle itself is starting to participate, or even take over driving decisions. So the availability and the uptime of those sensors become more and more critical. Now you have this advent of sensor cleaning. It’s a very new field, and there aren’t yet a confirmed set of standards or an agreed methodology amongst the different car manufacturers.
How does your solution work?
We’ve taken it upon ourselves to really understand the nature of the problem, down to the physics level. For example, we look at a wide range of weather conditions and different types of mud. From this, we’ve come to understand is that the ideal sensor cleaning system has to combine three core elements. Firstly, a jet of air, for drying or removing raindrops or dust. Secondly, liquid cleaning, for something with more density, like bird poop or mud, where you use that liquid in combination with air to move heavier contaminants. Thirdly, heat for wintry conditions like snow and ice. There are significant constraints within the context of a moving vehicle in order to bring those three things to bear. For example, how much power you can consume and how much space is available to install and integrate these systems.
Within existing systems for cleaning, the air part is typically provided by a compressor. However, a compressor can’t meet the constraints. Our technology is three millimetres thin and only 96 millimetres in diameter. It only uses between half a Watt to ten Watts of power, and it’s electronically controlled. It generates air without a compressor, pump or fan. So it provides a lot of flexibility in the system. We’ve also taken it a step further. We use the jet of air to provide the liquid spray in a fashion that reduces the amount of liquid being consumed to generate that spray. We also make heated air, so we’re able to melt snow and ice. So, we’re able to provide automotive manufacturers with a sensor cleaning system that reduces the system complexity and improves efficiency, meeting all their constraints and requirements.
Will you manufacture the devices yourselves or licence to OEMs directly?
Originally we were looking at getting very involved in design and development and optimization. But in terms of integration and production, we would do those functions under licence. We’re changing that. We’ve gotten deeper into the electronics, the communication protocols and a lot of the controls.
We realised at the outset that we need to be able to provide actuator cartridges. These are a series of laminate layers that are fused together, like making a sandwich. We recognised that we needed to produce them at low volume, no greater than 10,000 units a year. This is for two purposes. One is sampling for the automotive sector. Automotive product development requires a lot of samples and they have to be done under the right quality conditions. But we also have non-automotive customers for sensor cleaning. So, for example, security camera systems or traffic monitoring systems, where a low volume manufacturing capacity can actually satisfy some of those customers.
We looked at it initially as a great capability for flexibility and also to learn how to scale to high volume. So, it begs the question how do we look at setting up manufacturing partnerships? How do we do that in our licence so that they can make the sandwich for us? Or is there a greater role we can play in terms of production, giving ourselves some more flexibility? The other complication that we look at is that it’s a global industry and a lot of our current customers are in Europe. Where do you make, in the context of where your customers are located? So as a small startup, these are sort of existential questions that we’re really starting to work our way through, which has been a very positive challenge for us.
How will you work with companies who have much longer time scales?
It’s very frustrating because we do want things to move fast. That all being said, this is the first time that our team is going through this process. There’s a lot to learn there. We’re getting into a vehicle programme right now that goes into production at the end of 2024. That seems interminable, but between here and there, there is an enormous amount to do.
Getting qualified to provide a component to a vehicle manufacturer is a strenuous process. So my best suggestion is to look at those processes and look at what those requirements are. Do they move slowly only because they move slowly, or does it seem that they are moving slowly because there’s a lot of work and effort to get things really right? That’s what we’re dealing with. And I think the best suggestion is patience. It’s not what your start-up mindset is, but on the other hand, if you’re delivering to your customer in a long process, what they want when they want it, and you’re learning through that, that’s a recipe for success. You need tight coordination with your customers.
Do you have any tools or techniques you rely on to help you day to day?
I think there are two key things. One is just a good CRM so that you’re really tracking the conversations and the information with your customers. And then internally, I just have a really good to-do list. I write thoughts down and keep track of them and then figure out a good way to share them.
My view of management, my view of growing a startup, is to only put in processes or start to layer in bureaucracy when it’s absolutely necessary. I don’t want to slow people down or burden them unnecessarily. In addition, when you get to a point of wanting some control or process, enrol the people who need to be part of it. If you let them build it, it will be more successful than something that’s dictated. I try not to be overbearing. For me it’s all about asking questions, getting a feel for information, progress and flow and talking to people at the right times to make sure that things are on track.
What are your plans for 2022?
For the company, we’re entering into a critical phase, which is we’re getting much deeper into commercialisation. So establishing partnership and commercial agreements with major players in the automotive sector and getting to be part of vehicle programmes. These are things that will all happen in the next several months.
We’re very excited about how that sets us up for going down the path towards the future. The same with some of the non-automotive things. Those opportunities, while they are smaller, they have fewer constraints so they can move a little faster. So we’re hoping to close on a programme that will go into production, hopefully within about twelve months. We’re also raising our next round of capital to really allow us to grow and expand. We have a lot of interest in the product. We’re putting all those support or foundational pieces into place, including manufacturing, as we’ve discussed, to really build this ship and ultimately we’d like to light it and take off. So it’s going to be very exciting.
What’s the best way for people to find out more about yourself or Actasys?
For Actasys it’s actasysinc.com or firstname.lastname@example.org is a great email, and I’m on LinkedIn as Miles Flamenbaum. I’m certainly happy to provide any assistance or help or guidance or suggestions. I’m a big believer in entrepreneurial Karma so I try and give as good as I get.