“Just imagine all Ukrainians having their phones bugged,” Yaroslav Azhnyuk about how dangerous Telegram is, FPV drones, and autonomy modules

In 2023-2024, Yaroslav Azhnyuk, a Ukrainian entrepreneur and CEO at Petcube, launched three new projects: Kremlingram, about Telegram’s security; The Fourth Law, with its autonomy modules for robotic systems; and Odd Systems, an FPV racing drone manufacturer. We know pretty much about the first, but what the other two are about is not often discussed in entrepreneur interviews.

We talked to Yaroslav and discussed all his projects, the current demand for FPV drones, how autonomy modules increase their capacity, why automated robotic systems are the future, and why Telegram’s ban in Ukraine is needed.

Yaroslav Azhnyuk via LinkedIn

Yaroslav, please describe all the projects you are working on now.

The Fourth Law is almost my 24/7 job at the moment. It is a manufacturer of autonomy modules for robotic systems. For FPV drones, in the first place. Our mission is to make such drones fully autonomous.

However, I am still an entrepreneur. I have a couple of businesses I founded that are still functioning under other people’s leadership, which give me updates from time to time so that I can report some news on social media. Then, I have a bunch of civil initiatives like Kremlingram, Spend with Ukraine, or an initiative to add Ukraine to the Civilization PC game.

It’s a lot of things to do. In any case, I spend about 70 hours a week on The Fourth Law. I am also the founder of Odd Systems, which is very useful for wartime. Hired managers run it most of the time, but I also dedicate at least four hours weekly to this project.

We know little about The Fourth Law. Please tell us about the starting capital for this company.

We attracted some investments in the last month, but I have been its sole investor from the very beginning. Our cooperation with investors is crucial not only in finances but also in the expertise, contacts, and experience they can share with us.

Can you name these investors and the size of their investments?

It would be best if you always remembered that in the case of Ukraine and drone-related technologies, we must keep a certain level of secrecy. Too much information can harm. That’s why we cannot go in public with all the details. I can only say that the operation is running.

OK. Please tell us more about the autonomy modules you produce at The Fourth Law. How do they work?

FPV drones can sometimes carry sensitive cargo, which can be interfered with by clutters. One day, you need to deliver a package over a forest or a mountain, which creates a radio shadow. Then, you need so-called last-mile delivery when a pilot knows where to deliver the cargo but cannot fly over there because of losing radio communication. Some systems allow for the capture of the point of delivery and transfer of control to the board computer at a specific stage of the flight. These are last-mile delivery systems. We produce them for our clients.

Another part of our work is to split pilot’s missions into fragments and automate as much of them as possible. For example, search for a point of delivery or navigate the return flight within 10 to 20 km and back to the base (or not). Some missions require the simultaneous operation of multiple drones. For this, we need the autonomy we are developing now.

We work with FPV drones, which are probably the most robotized platform in the world. Maybe vacuum cleaners can compete with them in terms of automation. As PCs or smartphones used to be, FPV drones have become a platform for many charming solutions.

Nowadays, FPV drones require much attention from talented engineers, as do all robotic systems. I am sure we will see autonomous robots completely replacing people in several areas of activity within the next ten years.

There are two technology megatrends. The first one is the evolution of semiconductors: they got smaller, more powerful, and more efficient. The second trend is the development of neural networks and technology, now called AI. Twenty years ago, AI meant entirely different technologies. Those old ones and the new ones meet each other in a bridge technology—autonomous robotics. I am sure it will soon cause a critical shift in such multi-trillion industries as transport or agriculture, as the Internet changed access to information once.

In Ukraine, this area is essential for upgrading our defense capability. So, attracting as much attention from engineers and entrepreneurs as possible is crucial not only in the near perspective but for the next decades. Robotic autonomous technologies will also affect the defense capabilities of Western nations, Ukraine, and the world economy. That is why I started to deal with them.

So, The Fourth Law works for the defense capability of Ukraine now. And in the future, you plan to expand to new markets, including civil applications, right?

Exactly.

Have you already started working in this direction?

We started a pilot integration with a US-based FPV drone producer. They seem happy with that, and we will deliver new products together.

Odd Systems manufactures FPV drones in addition to autonomy modules. What were the sources of financing for this project?

My savings.

Do The Fourth Law and Odd Systems work in tandem? Can your customers order drones with installed autonomy modules?

Yes, we cooperate closely there. It is possible, but we sell the modules as separate items and even franchises to some clients.

Have your drones and modules already been used for their purpose? Do you collaborate with the government?

Yes. We also cooperate with Brave1 and other state entities. Everything is fine. Both companies are very young; both started with significant, daily growth results. Our current focus is to expand the scale. The issue of employee reservation against mobilization is on the table, as in many other companies. However, it will be resolved soon.

What would be your recommendations for beginner entrepreneurs in defense tech? Where to start?

If a guy has a decent idea, it is a great beginning already. In general, I think entrepreneurs should be curious and persistent. If you are a Ukrainian with business or engineering talents, ask yourself: What will you tell your children in 15, 20, or 30 years about what you did in 2024? Make sure you will remember that time with pride.

The Ukrainian defense tech community is open-minded, large, and resourceful. Here, you can always find people who share your ideas and help you take your own place. This industry is well appreciated not only in Ukraine but also around the world. So, it is like a gravity field to which the world’s matter bends.

Indeed, if you produce something valuable, you will always find funding, compassionate people, and options to make your ideas come true. An important thing to consider is that entrepreneurs should speak with the end users. It is a must in every industry, especially in defense tech. Unfortunately, I must admit that many still lack this skill.

There can be another situation: two engineers meet to create something, but they lack a product manager who will speak with users and think about how the product should be used, look, and pass all the way from a technological idea to the hands of end users. It can also happen that there are enough engineers but no entrepreneurs. And they are not able to build a solid business. If you don’t have a guy with a business background, find a partner with relevant experience who is ready to help. Then, some businessmen don’t look far enough. Their sight is limited to one or two years within Ukraine, while they must count in decades and worldwide.

When you finally get everything, you will find the required resources, funds, and specialists. And this will result in great value for the Ukrainian defense capability now and vast opportunities in the future.

We, as a nation, won’t live without threats. So, we must look forward. Look, learn, read. Speak with the people. And all will be fine.

Let’s discuss your other project, Kremlingram. It started as a volunteer initiative. Did it also require some investments?

We invested nothing in Kremlingram. It is more a project of journalist investigations that started in a Signal chat of a group of people who studied and discussed ties of Telegram with the Kremlin. That is how we named the project.

In general, Kremlingram began with my author columns on Ukrainska Pravda and Kyiv Independent. Later, more IT specialists, journalists, bloggers, state officials, etc. joined us. And last autumn, we launched a website.

We spent the last few months formalizing the Kremlingram project. Several guys, led by Nazar Tokar, have systematically worked on this. Recently, we also created BuyMeACoffee and Patreon profiles. We also raise donor funding to hire a few full-time journalist investigators to systematize content creation. We will also cooperate with foreign partners to develop alternatives for Telegram in Ukraine as soon as possible. We should also bring the idea to foreign partners, our government, and our citizens that Telegram is a Trojan horse in the pockets of 70% of Ukrainians.

How different are the opinions about Telegram in our society? Can they change radically and quickly?

Of course, we have seen some opinion shifts in Ukraine for the past twelve to eighteen months. I would say people became more cautious regarding Telegram. But it’s going not so fast, especially in the context of ongoing war and the scale of risks connected to this messenger. Just imagine all Ukrainians have their phones bugged. That is the scale of risk we are discussing now.

Sure, we cannot know for certain which level of access Russian authorities have to the application. But if so, the enemy would do everything to protect it. Unfortunately, Telegram has become a core of communication for us as Privatbank used to be at the core of our banking system. It is not so easy to cease using it.

Today, a set of essential activities go via Telegram — from news to FPV drone fundraisers and official state communication. You cannot just cut it all and block Telegram entirely. It would be a very complicated and non-motivated move that caused undesired destructive effects.

However, we can see a shift to alternative platforms that is too slow, even though GUR and SBU made statements about Telegram risks. And these risks appear in two dimensions. The first is social media and information distribution channels without content moderation, leading to spreading fakes, propaganda, and manipulations.

The second is Telegram itself as a means of media and communication. All messages are stored on servers and are not protected with two-way encryption. So, we can’t have any proof that this information is not read by anyone or won’t be read in the future. We don’t see any judgments from the state towards this app.

These judgments can be followed then by public statements of influencers and government officials who use Telegram and are gonna swiftly shift to alternative platforms. For example, the media would not close Telegram channels immediately but publish news on other platforms 10 minutes earlier than on Telegram.

However, despite the too-slow reactions, more and more people cease to use Telegram publicly. The trust is decreasing. And this trend will be only increasing. The question is how to speed up the process. If Germans managed to refuse to purchase Russian oil, Ukrainians could surely refuse to use Russian Telegram.

Do you think it will end up with a ban or a restriction on the level of law?

Exactly. The ban on Odnoklassniki and VKontakte was an absolutely right move from the perspective of national security. The same will likely happen with Telegram. But it should be a well-thought and step-by-step state policy of lowering the dependency of Ukrainians on a social network created, controlled, and loved by Russians. It is like that joke about a duck: It looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. So, maybe it is a Russian tool, isn’t it?

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