From working with NASA to helping travel managers predict flight disruption, Bala Chandran tells BBT editor Matthew Parsons about Lumo’s journey so far
As well as sending people into space, NASA does a fair stretch of work closer to our terrestrial home. Through its Small Business Innovation Research grants, it invests in start-ups to help it explore areas that impact aviation.
In 2015 NASA invested US$1.75 million in FlightSayer (later rebranded to Lumo), which was set up to analyse drone traffic.
“NASA was interested in managing traffic congestion around drones. It funded research to look 20 years into the future – imagine you have pizza and delivery drones all over the skies! So we worked with them on predictive ideas,” Lumo’s Bala Chandran tells me, shortly after his pitch for the Entrepreneurs in Business Travel Award at the The Business Travel Association - formerly the GTMC, the major UK-based association representing TMCs Conference in the Netherlands.
That work developed into tools to predict flight delays. Chandran says he no longer receives NASA funding, following the rebrand to Lumo, but in March last year the tech start-up received US$2.3 million from investors, including JetBlue Technology Ventures and Founders Factory, whose travel programme is backed by easyJet.
Despite being a runner-up in the Entrepreneurs in Business Travel Award (YourParkingSpace was the winner), the co-founder and chief executive was upbeat about the event. “It was fantastic! I rarely get to pitch at such a concentrated Travel Management Company: An agency which manages business travel for a company. audience – there were 50 potential customers.”
So what exactly is Lumo’s pitch? “Typically, we predict 50 per cent of delays before airlines,” Chandran claims. The app, and Navigator website for the Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions sector, feeds in data from a range of sources, such as OAG and European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation: EUROCONTROL's mission is to harmonise and integrate air navigation services in Europe, aiming at the creation of a uniform air traffic managemen..., which publishes data from several air traffic communities. Its algorithms also consider information on flight paths and air traffic, congestion at various airports, how that impacts other airports, and weather forecasts.
The user can track their flight, and Lumo’s delay probability score is returned on a scale of one to ten, with ten meaning a definite delay. There’s also a score for the severity of the delay. Chandran says the average tipping point is number seven, where the traveller will take action. “But it’s so dependent on context,” he says. “Is it a case of, ‘I really have to be there’, and is the fare non-refundable?”
In the US, Lumo provides white-label predictive analytics to several TMCs, including Altour and Adelman Travel, and globally with CWT and Flight Centre Travel Group.
It also works directly with corporates, including Microsoft, Anthem Healthcare and Edgewell Personal Care – companies that tend to have significant “road warrior populations”, Chandran says. In one recent case study, a large organsation saved 10,000 hours of delays per year across its workforce, when it historically had experienced 40,000 hours per year.
Lumo’s business model is based on a charge per flight tracker, or per segment fee, all done via API, while its desktop tool, Navigator, charges a licence fee.
Currently, Chandran is looking to raise more funding to expand in Europe. “The most exciting part has been the past few months,” he says. “We’re signing up new customers everyday.”
As far as predictions go, there’s a strong chance the industry will be hearing a lot more about Lumo.
Bala Chandran founded FlightSayer (which became Lumo) in 2014. Prior to that he held roles at Analytics Operations Engineering, Intelsat Global Service Corporation and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He holds a PhD in industrial engineering and operations research.