#012 – Fixed-Wing, BVLOS Drones for Industry with Benjamin Benharrosh



welcome to commercial drones FM the podcast that explores the commercial drone industry the people who power it and the concepts that drive it I'm your host Ian Smith hey everybody welcome to commercial drones FM today I'm sitting in San Francisco with Benjamin ben-hur oh she's the co-founder of dallaire tech which is a French drone company and he leads the new offshoot de l'air America over in Los Angeles and right now they're focused on expansion into the US and canada so Benjamin's been in the drone industry since 2011 a little over five years which is pretty impressive and he actually used to be my boss whenever I worked for delaire tech over in Toulouse in France so welcome to the show Benjamin Thank You Ian great to see you here in San Francisco thank you so first things first I have to say thank you everyone to for listening I'm going to kind of take a little tangent here so today's recording marks one day or one month plus one day since the show actually launched and on july 4th and we've actually hit over 7500 downloads of the class thank you thank you yeah so there's definitely something here people are listening people I guess there was a desire to learn more about commercial drones so turning it back over to you number one question what is de l'air tech soda wrath Tech is a French company as you say it so we started a bit more than five years ago and we're for a solution for observation for professional industries such as rain power green agricultural and we use drones drones it we design that we deploy and then we process the data to extract information from for our customers excellent so you you create the drones from the ground up oh yeah everything from scratch auto pilot auto pilot cameras airframe flame control software all of this nice oh we designed it we we sell it and for some of our customer we make it deployed by a service operator and then we process the data for them very cool so what are some of the the drones what are they called what kind of drones do it's fixed wing drones at the beginning of the company we wanted to target Island gas market so we wanted to have like beyond visual line of sight long and restaurant so we started with fixed-wing drones we have two of them now on GTA tntt 26 1 is 2 kilogram you can fly two hours 100 kilometer and the other one is a 15 kilogram and can fly to another 25 hours so for our us listeners both of those drugs two kilos and 15 kilos that's going to actually in four pounds there we go yeah 4.4 pounds so that will be within the less than 55 pounds yet part 17 in both of them that's cool very a lesson about dt 18 it was the first to avi think in the world to be certified by you a national authority from beyond visual line of sight so it was in late 2012 and since that time everybody who was buying a DJ teen in france was authorized to fly beyond visual line of sight that's really cool and it's called like scenario cats for s4 ok cool so memory and hahahaha thank you very much appreciate that so the the dt 18 small fixed-wing drone can you tell us a little bit about kind of maybe how you start it like what you have two other co-founders michael de la garde and 33 we have 40 sorry sorry yeah 44 total co-founders i'm still in drone deployed mode here if the three co-founders yeah maybe you can kind of tell us like why did you guys start Dallaire tech back in 2011 which is pretty ancient if you think of the drone industry yeah and actually it started the project start to like in 2009 i do very origin it was a Mikkel that I got who is one of my associates so he was working for another and gas company any experience like leaks every day on the his pipelines so he kind of imagined a new flying robots that could detect leaks like a 20 20 kilometers away from his base so he started to to design a some project and basic drawings etc he started to make some prototypes and then when you want you to build the company was trying to find some co-founders and the we were at the same school with Mikayla and Bastian that's very much news isn't hers yet was in Paris it's called école Polytechnique growth we were at the same school and he started to talk about this project I was looking for project best as well best Anwar was working the space industry at that time so he had like the skills to to build telecommunication systems navigation systems for for this kind of machines yeah and the the first one Benjamin the other Benjamin was the bus of my car when he was working yelling gas industry gosh I kind of gathered all these all these guys with different skills and we we started a company in 2011 isn't there like some really funny story about whenever you kind of started at the lair tech you were in some funny situation where yes but it still secret today maybe in a few years we really is it ok ok no problem no problem whenever you feel comfortable to share it I make everyone interview if you look I'm kidding no problem cool so actually what is the what kind of price range does the dt 18 and dt 26 x fall into i mean these are industrial grade super high quality handmade drones so i could find yeah certified beyond visual line of sites for in france so what can what would one expect to pay for one of these Michelle okay and also we haven't talked about the sensors but it since all that like professional grade so we don't carry commercial cameras or this kind of stuff but it's like professional cameras either if it's visible or multispectral or infrared it's always the professional tool I mean we are looking for the best quality of the data because we seen the quality of the data is very important when you want to look for information yeah so the price range would be if you're talking about the full package including the training center all the software including the software to process the data it would be something like thirty thousand dollars for the GT 18 okay you only on this yeah depending on the sensor and the 90 with the GT 26 Thank You doesn't cool so the dt 26 of course the big price the price bump there is because obviously that's a larger aircraft when you can I mean how much endurance does it have it depends on the sensor so it can usually it's two and a half hours Wow but it's especially it has a capacity to carry like five kilograms of sensor so it's been designed around the lidar so lidar is a kind of laser that is scanning the earth it's much more powerful that what you can do is photogrammetry you can see like very in deep details you can see through the vegetation and you can see like power cables you consider a lot of stuff our clients want to sit back down to millimeters right exactly so it sends a lot of impulsion a laser encryption and this is very expensive this is very big and the whole DT 26 has been designed around the sensor amazing there's also there's also the dt dt IXL like the big surveillance sensor um I don't know you guys actually there's been a lot of work with SNCF from dallaire tech so SNCF for those that don't know is like I think Europe's largest railway operator I don't know if is i think it's with deutsche bahn yeah i think they're like competing each other the gym manager ok cool ok so week one of the largest in Europe so they were using up maybe you can tell us how they were using or how they use the dt 26 x yeah so they came to us like at the beginning of the company may be late 2012 just after our certification from beyond line-of-sight and they were looking for a system to be able to to make servants night's events of their rail because they have they are facing a lot of corporate cable left because at that time the price of the copper was very high which causes problem for them in terms of investments because they had to replace these cables and also in terms of it breaks the service so the trains can not run anymore so it's a very huge problem for them and they they estimate it as a loss of hundreds of million dollars per year so they were looking for some solution to help their teams to make the Jovians by night of the rail so they have been looking into long and drones drones I think BNSF in the US is doing the same with the companies like skinny girl railroad company or train what do they call it themselves train or railroad come i would say Redwald not sure and then so it's basically the way they use the dt 26 is that they send it on a road rail it flies like two hours during the night they make multiple flights so at the end of the day they will fly six hours per night and they receive in real time the video infrared video on the monitor and they send it also in real time to Paris using a satellite communication so on the base station you have a satellite internet that can send it through to any point in in Europe that is so cool so are you guys that reminded me of another cool thing so are you guys still putting the 3g kind of 4G LTE modems and SATCOM on the drones themselves yeah so 3g and 4g is already on the drone now on the dt 26 and said come with still working on it so the idea is to be able to to send information from the drones through directly solar satellite 20 point in years everybody you know it won't be for video because the flow and the amount of detail you can transmit using this satellite communication is not enough but for comtron come and it should be like ok so controlling telling the drone what does it do ok cool inspection I could be useful what for like you know huge mapping missions maybe where you're flying where you're able to actually fly beyond visual items yeah exactly over the sea you know where we're talking to like a kind of tuna fish companies ok interesting remember we were interested in that a few years ago actually I talked to the guy yesterday so yeah how it works you know they have this kind of huge radar on the boats the was that is supposed to to fish and to capture the tuna and with the radar they can detect if you have like birds that are over to see like a group of birds and if there's a lot it might be because there are some tuna fish below so today they send a helicopter to verify it and when they when they can actually see that there is some tunas they listen the boat I've heard some funny stories about the quality of the helicopters that they have on some of those to do they're not very well maintained yeah exactly so they're fixing like this and no problem for them I made a good career decision than not yeah but yeah that that's a really cool it's a very clever way I've been tuna fishing with my uncle who's a big fisherman and the way that we tried to spot and it was a much smaller operation it was on one boat but we would look for the birds as well yeah so the birds would be trying to get like the little fish and yet the tuna from below would be getting the little fish so than that that would be like the whole it was like the x marks the spot for the tuna so you try to get that well that's really cool no that'd be awesome to get some more information on that once it once it comes through what kind of industry so we've mentioned the tuna fishing industry i mentioned railroad industry which is really cool because I'm much more passionate about you know every day we talk about agriculture and construction and mining which is really cool but I like to you know kind of expose more of industries what other industries besides maybe those three that I just mentioned are our people using dallaire tech drones so just two to finish about the railroad industry so they came to us for security purposes but now they use more than the drones for maintenance aspects so they want to detect some very specific and amenities above the railroads they want to make some topography they want to Detective the vegetation is not to to dance close to the power to do to the power line they ever about them the catenary know and I've had to say it in English but yeah the vegetable that is a yeah this is about the railroad okay yeah I got you I think we all understand haha this kind of now they are more like looking at this than security purposes it they are still looking at the security but actually the biggest need is about the maintenance and we kind of do the same thing for power line companies so we try to detect anomalies on the millions of images that we take up of the power lines so vegetation encroachment missing insulators hot spots all this kind of stuff that you can have on a power line so we just signed a big contract with the main utility in France to be able to detect anomalies no significant part of the network EDF erdf giardia yeah now it's called energies it's like the company that transport the electricity EDF is the company that produces the electricity I see okay we're in the last thing with the island gas companies as well so what we do in France I think in the u.s. they have the same is that so the pipelines are on the ground and they by law they have to detect any excavator that would be digging into the ground without knowing this a pipeline below mmm right-of-way violation exactly yeah that's a big thing people are using traditionally like when you're building hours as like a helicopter pilot or a fixed-wing pilot then you can kind of get on like the pipeline patrol route and just kind of fly and then someone sits there with a clipboard and then marks it it's okay or not I mean records GPS coordinates so that'll that'll definitely help a lot yeah so we worked a lot on the image processing part of it because you need to be able to detect escritos from aerial imagery hmm so it's been a long process and now on the last experiment we've done we were pretty successful who had like a ninety-seven percent of success oh this is an automated algorithm yeah okay so it's like automatic image analysis and is an object recognition is a texan very cool all right what about some milestones in in usage or sales like I think I saw something on the Twitter feed of Dallaire tech like 60 countries 100 countries something like that where people are using Dallaire tech drones say okay so it was 30 countries let's hurry countries and now I think it would be like Saudi five maybe gotcha okay so sorry 115 drones last year that we we sold we plan to do like 500 this year and excellent that's cool so that kind of ties in so adding more countries to that list of course I mean obviously it's a indicator it's an indicator for the drone industry as a whole to we want everybody to be selling drones all over the place what what what's your strategy with LA so you move to the US and what's the purpose of this like to come to the u.s. and just kind of land and expand and and bring the drones here yeah so I mean when you're in Europe you always think about the u.s. you know it's always the big market you know and they actually it hasn't been a big market for the past five years because the regulation was not there but now that the regression part 1 07 just has been released it's going to be a big market it's going to be huge for especially for infrastructure because the country is big you need to inspect paralyzed need to inspect rail you need to inspect a pipeline so I know the regulation today doesn't allow beyond visual line of sight operations but it does allow some basic stuff so we think it's a good time now to enter and to try to to deploy our systems here in the country and to build some pilot projects with BNSF to build some pilot project with utilities with iodine gas companies and try to expand our technology to the US and also we think our competitors from of tomorrow are based in the US we want to be close to them and then you know yeah well perfect timing that's that's really good hope so so what about hardware versus software we talked about the hard wave talked about the drones themselves and a little bit about the software we didn't get too much into it but what do you think which one's easier easier the software by fat no no I don't know I don't know but what I can tell you is that hardware is hot as it is in the name its hub and especially when you talk about flying hollow because you don't have the right to make a mistake because the sanction is a is automatically I mean it can be very hard so when we started the company we start with the hardware because at that time the hardware didn't exist yeah so we need it like this long entrance flying drones over like 100 kilometers 150 kilometers so we started with the hardware which was pretty painful because we had to rebuild everything from scratch everything even the other pilot yeah yeah airframe telecommunication system everything had to be done on purpose because we wanted to maximize the endurance and the performance of the drones in a very small wait below 4.4 pounds because at that time it was the limit in France so we had to do it from scratch so it was a long process it was very hard but we come from the part of the team come from the aviation in space industry we haven't mentioned that but we are based in Toulouse to lose it the head cut off Airbus so I can find a lot of Engineers beautiful city beautiful city and a lot of skills in aerospace and aviation so we kind of tried to mix this culture aviation in space with a robotic culture like more startups gigs and with very short cycles so we think in the drone industry the guys who will be good at hardware will be the guys who can mix these two cultures and you don't need to oppose Aeronautics with robotics you need to be able to mix them and many startups are started with like robotics my mindset and so they they were like a struggling and making like a certified and safe hardware because it was falling down like a very often yeah but when you mix it with a narrated in aeronautics culture that is more like safe and certified and you you wait until you're sure that you are ger ISM can fly before you fly then it can afford swell so hablar has been very hard I think for a lot of companies so a lot of companies have decided to stop the hardware and to focus more on the software very true yeah so we think hardware is still important because you should not have cover of course you cannot do anything but we sync software as well is easy might be the most important in the next years and especially about data processing I made processing and stuff but today if you if you look at the numbers the company that are making money and in the joints tree our hardware company hmm we add the red tech we still do ninety percent of our revenue based on the hardware sales okay so software part is a very small part of it we know it will grow but today companies that own powerful a hardware company how many employees are at the higher tech now a bit more than 70 Wow and how many countries are you based in so we have a fizzy soda advertising to lose web offices in Paris in Sydney in Australia and now in LA great are you guys hiring in la if any or in any of the officers yes yeah especially in la la di d so today I'm alone because I just arrived at months ago and we plan to be at least five in the end of the year and what kind of positions if someone might be interested in there listening and I was it's a phase pilots and the support okay great that's awesome okay cool so I wanted to touch a little bit one of my favorite things that dallaire tech has created is the vegetation encroachment algorithm I was always very fascinated by that it's it solves a really cool problem that well it's not a cool problem but it's a really cool solution to a bad problem in in that like for example vegetation encroachment on like power transmission lines for example in Australia can wreak havoc across the country when it's very dry and the vegetation touches the lines it can catch fire especially with some of the three types they have out there it's like explosive napalm and then it just like just spreads across the country so maybe you can tell a little bit about like or just expand maybe because we kind of touched on it about the vegetation encroachment algorithm I mean it's so cool it uses photogrammetry to like you know develop the point cloud and then like I don't know it like shows you where you need to dispatch room exactly exactly so today you need to understand that it's the biggest budget in terms of maintenance of power line companies just in France they spend a hundred million per year I just cutting trees above a 250,000 miles of power lines so it's it's huge and today the way they can detect it is that they send people underground so working guys that are trying to see if there is some tree and they evaluate with you with their own eyes if they sing the trees too close to the power line or they use helicopters so helicopters is expensive it's dangerous it's noisy and sometimes when it flies over like farms it can kill some animals you know because the animals get crazy they be scared of it on a helicopter pilot said so so there's a huge need for them so when they came to us in 2012 they want us to be able to detect automatically in the tree was too close to the power line yeah what we do today is that we take some pictures that was there like criteria we want you to just tell me when the tree is close to the power line boom anyway and then we want you to date like every year okay we want you to do for the whole network yeah so eventually they'll have just drones all over the place yes exactly Wow here so the way it works is that we take some pictures high-resolution pictures so do the resolution is about the size of a picture is about two centimeters today we take the pictures and we rebuild in 3d and the model of the vegetation so we will we build everything in 3d then we we select the vegetation using a near-infrared bandwidth okay so it's not in the visible it's like in the closed infrared so you can see the vegetation because it it reflects a lot in this bandwidth so you select the vegetation from the building from the road from everything that is not the vegetation and then you calculate for each point of the vegetation the distance between the point and the power line and as soon as it's below the certain threshold so 1 meter 3 meter 5 meter 7 meter you spot it in a certain color and then you deliver to the client kind of a google maps where all the anomalies or spatula although the places where the vegetation is too close to the power line love it you started in the drone industry in 2011 how funny would it be to go back maybe even pre-2011 that was Wendell airtec was I guess Incorporated it was 2011 how funny would it be to go back and watch some of those first flights of the hardware you guys it wouldn't be funny scary like a horror movie that's so funny so another thing so we have some cool stories together so I want I just want to touch on this I thought this was very interesting at the time and now I think it would it would have some relevancy so flashback to Abu Dhabi you and i were there in April 2015 we were at an oil and gas inspection conference and you had a presentation so during the presentation I threw up a survey for the crowd and this was surprising to me I the the survey it said do you imagine roughly and paraphrasing here do you imagine that you'll be using drones in your business so in the oil and gas inspection industry in the next and then the answers were like one year or two years three years you know then it went like the last one was five years plus and then I think there was actually there was one more and it said i don't know if i'll ever use drones in my business and the overwhelming majority that the majority of the response was actually like five plus years or like i don't think i'll ever be using them in my business or I don't know and I just thought that was at the time I was just shocked because this this technology is just you know that even the the implications of it are just you know sometimes maybe unproven in certain areas but it's so interesting so do you think if we went back to that same conference this year or next year do you think that answer would change back to a lot more a lot sooner than we think yeah I think so because you know it so I just said it was like one and a half years ago maybe yeah it's so soon it's so soon that's in the drawing industry it's huge I mean it's see who's if it's like a another set century you know so it's another error so it's moving like so fast and so quickly at that time I remember yeah the audience I think I was maybe the frost guy who was talking draws today you definitely work yeah but I think now they will it's been a year that everybody is talking about drawers and I think these guys have heard about drones and now they can imagine like using it in the next year or the next two years I'm sure about that for sure I totally agree yeah that was so quickly I mean it's crazy so what's one of your what's one of your favorite use cases of a delight ektron maybe something that you know so there's a lot of news if you don't know if you're if you're not French you you might not know as much about de l'air tech because you know even when I was there like it was all over the news you know it but a lot of the the news and media coverage has traditionally been in French so do you have a specific use case that comes to mind that that was really cool to you like specifically felt like all right this is this is really neat the stuff that we're doing okay so we talked about that but the vegetation encroachments what I like about it is that it's fully automated the food process from the beginning to the end so you just push a button and then the process goes on and at end at the end of the day you get the result and you get the maps so this is pretty cool because there is no human intervention anymore so this is something we like but then it's not like the craziest stuff we've ever done you know I mean we we've done some stuff that was like oh my god we can do that with each one even we were like a kind of surprised we made like a survey in the Indian Ocean where we could do some topography below the sea apt water meters below the sea so it was a kind of crazy what you can have with like professional sensors so it was not like photogrammetry to a hyperspectral imagery no way and with the hyperspectral you can detect like so crazy scenes like below 30 meters below the sea Wow whoa what was the case for that it was to do some Betty metrical survey in order to to analyze reef yeah the reef whoa was it like for potential oil and gas and I it was for the agency in charge of the protection of the demerit email area that's amazing yeah hyperspectral i think well it definitely has not reached its potential by any means at all it's just so hard to get ahold of I mean they're really expensive how big was the witch which aircraft was the CT 26 of them because it's big how big is the hyperspectral sensor is it's like the size of a lidar yeah it's more like decide oh yeah it's a bit more light but it's mostly the size of lie down so i would say i don't know in inch but i would say 20 centimeters per 20 centimeter something that yes listen to in terms gotcha and that's really yeah happy aspect is a pretty powerful technology that's awesome so in five years five plus years in the industry what kind of advice would you give maybe to someone who's who's just starting like a drone company give up hahaha do another thing of epic advice yeah go away but now that it's still time what is has it just been like is it really you know really tough to get started or if you just have to put a huge commitment into it you have to put a huge commitment you have to be cool because some pretty bad things will happen it was I get to keep your calm and to to to to see you know i'm i don't know i mean it's something for people who are like in france we said look look up Jana crochet so the heart is the weather unplaced now you can have some heart attacks and your heart is secure inside of nature like not gonna be rattled very easy ok cool so just just be aware that is not going to be a super easy room it never is an entrepreneurship okay so recently there was a White House drone workshop this past week the FAA Administrator Huerta had announced that there was over 500,000 recreational drone registrations in the past eight months and they compared that to I believe in I might be misquoting this but around a hundred thousand manned aircraft registrations took decades to get to that point so drones have have 5x in such short amount of time in less than a year then the entire manned aircraft registry how do you compare this to France do you feel like or well I don't know any of the statistics as far as that goes I don't think you're even required to register your drone maybe unless you're doing a commercial operation but how does that compare to France because France you know one of my favorite things is like France just got netflix in like late 2014 but at the same time like there was beyond visual line of sight certified drones from the lair tech the first ones you know even before that so it's it's so interesting sometimes France lags behind sometimes their head obviously it's a smaller country but woody how do you kind of compare that growth in France like what's what's the drone industry like is it growing like crazy still in France I think it started very early as you said so in 2012 we had ever felt regulation who was even more advanced that what you have now in the US so it was no in April 2012 so it grew like very quickly and very you know very early but now when you look at the numbers in the u.s. you have much more UAV that are registers that in France even in on the professional industry because as you said for leisure we don't register them to the inference so II it it started very early but the gross is not as fast as it is and as big as it is in the US so I think you're gonna be like way more advanced than us in the next few months or years you know I think yeah it'll probably be it definitely definitely be years definitely definitely not months I don't know maybe you yeah no bureaucrat I think that's one thing that we have pretty much in common is that the Bureau bureaucratic process can tend to be pretty slow yeah ok cool so any plans are you guys ever planning to do any like fixed-wing delivery drones in the near future have you guys ever thought about that of course we've said about that because it's one of the topic that people talk the most about I don't know why but this is what people talk about it's the delivery but now we won't do that because I mean it's it's kind of it's very tricky technically in regulatory in terms of insurance as well and you know we we have a lot to do in observation so we want to stick to the observation makes sense you gotta have focus you can be all over the place and you know we started withdrawn but we haven't talked and we haven't talked about that too much but we now want to expand a bit with a manned aircraft and maybe space as well cool we sing satellite imagery enjoy Demetria very complimentary yeah so you need to be able to mix them if you want to win because for customer Lika the railway the power lines the only gas they don't care the image comes from a satellite manned aircraft Aldrin you just want the right information at the right price and at the right moment so that's really cool be able to master all this means so we have a lot me to doing that so alone aerial data for many nearly any altitude exactly okay the full picture then what about rotary drones any any thoughts or plans on on expanding into their you guys kind of just sticking with the fixed-wing for now yeah I was taken to the fixed thing because we're touring drones you have a lot of company who do that yeah i would say ninety five percent of the drawing rotary wing so and you have very good companies the rotary wing strong I don't see the point in s doing rotary drum solo to fix training okay so so one of the last questions will be so scenario tomorrow you're starting a drone service company Benjamin ben-hur osha's drone drone extravaganza company you had you can buy two drones so you've my one fixed wing and one multi rotor or rotary drone which two drones do you choose and why I hope you're not asking me which fixing drone I would choose because I'm in the answer is obvious and I don't even want to answer to this for the fixed-wing Jones it's a and and and then I get 18 yeah this 18 ODT 23 26 and I guess it depends on the application for some application i think i would i would buy something like Gigi I who can do like a lot of stuff for some application for some may be more professional application across a since all that is pretty heavy and pretty you know survey grade hmm I think I would go something like my control so you know this kind of gosh around cool nice and so last question are you planning on taking the part 1 07 test here in the US i mean it's a it is available to non-us citizens so you can take the test and become a commercial operator will you be doing that yourself or where you have the other pilots on be doing that might I found is you're gonna be soaring above the the United States pretty soon yeah awesome man well you can follow Benjamin on twitter at been the number seven bees bee is and you can follow dallaire tech of course on twitter at the lair tech it's de la I our tech te CH and visit the website at de l'air dash tech com and of course you can also follow commercial drones FM the podcast here on twitter at drones podcast and at facebook.com slash drones podcast if you like the show leave a review on iTunes and subscribe we really love you guys so thank you so much for getting us to this milestone here and Benjamin any last parting thoughts for the audience or anything in general about the drone industry now I just have a shot now for my associate with crossing the channel to see in a submarine he designed himself is a friend of it so I just have a shot for him because he's gonna spend a week in that center hundred meters of depth so hold on so this is the one of the cofounders of dell'arte is underwater in a human-powered like bicycle submarines in the english channel crossing from france to hit the UK exactly and you two front section okay that makes much more sense and i can pop the champagne yeah on home home turf all right good luck Michael yeah we're thinking of you alright cool donk merci a tous des voix kuttai and mercy benjamin for tomtom today on competency and stuff is edit / new 720 bientot paula Koshien episode the commercial drones FM a bientot bye bye you

Co-founder Benjamin Benharrosh, lets us in on the evolution of Delair-Tech—the first company in the world to achieve BVLOS certification for their fixed-wing drones. Since starting in 2011, the French company has been involved with railroad and utility companies, SATCOM and 4G LTE radio links, and most recently, opened an office in the United States.

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