Inside Unmanned Systems

JUN-JUL 2017

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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AIR, LAND, MARINE POWER 54 unmanned systems inside   June/July 2017 WiBotic receiver and antenna connected to battery. WiBotic development kit components. WiBotic transmitter, receiver circuit boards and antennas. form of a pad that aerial drones can land on or ground-based robots can drive over, or can be vertically mounted for ground-based robots to pull up alongside. WiBotic also offers a tubu- lar recharging station that aquatic unmanned vehicles can swim in and out of, Carlson said. WiBotic provides customers prototype devel- opment kits that are customized for plug-and- play use with their robots. WiBotic can then work closely with customers moving past the prototype stage "to figure out what integration is needed for a production-ready unit," Carlson said. Currently, the recharging station has a power of about 150 watts, "which is about the same power level as the plug-in chargers for typi- cal small- to mid-sized drones," Carlson said. "We're developing a higher-powered system that we anticipate having by the end of the year that can charge any retail drone battery in the equivalent times of desktop chargers." WiBotic is a spinoff from the University of Washington that Waters launched in 2015 with Joshua Smith, an associate professor in the university's departments of computer science and engineering and electrical engineering and Waters' former graduate advisor. They had origi- nally worked on a way to wirelessly power left ventricular assist devices (LVADs), which are implanted artificial heart pumps that help cir- culate blood in severe heart failure patients who are waiting or ineligible for a heart transplant. "These heart pumps are driven by wires coming out of the side of a person, which is not the most pleasant thing in the world," Carlson said. "The idea was to charge them wirelessly through skin and bone not only with really high power but also extremely high reliability due to the vital nature of the heart pumps, and so they needed to account for things like people moving or rolling over as they sleep and lying at an angle to the transmitter." However, it can take a medical device many years before it gets approved for the market, "and so we saw an opportunity to enter the unmanned vehicle field, due to challenges that inductive charging had faced there," Waters said. True Autonomy WiBotic said its customers are using un- manned vehicles to help perform indoor and outdoor security patrols, transport medical supplies in developing countries, deliver food and services within hotels, respond to emer- gency situations, and inspect pipelines. "On the aquatic side, we're working primarily on AUVs [autonomous underwater vehicles] de- signed for research that dive and take samples of the water column as they go down, although there are a number of projects underway for defense-oriented applications that we really can't talk much about," Carlson said. One of WiBotic's ultimate goals is to help en- able completely autonomous drone operations. However, Carlson noted that U.S. regulations currently do not allow fully autonomous drone flights. "Our customers will not get the full ben- efits of our technology until people don't need to be in the loop there anymore," Carlson said. "But we do expect to see regulations easing pretty rapidly, most likely for fully autonomous flights over private property and less-populated areas." In the meantime, another benefit of WiBotic technology is that it can help greatly improve battery life, Carlson said. "Anecdotally, we've seen customers getting twice the lifespan from batteries when using our system compared to when they were just using a desktop charger and manually pulling batteries out," Carlson said. "Most drone batteries operate best at the center of their power range, from about 30 percent charge to 70 or 80 percent charge," Carlson explained. "For the longest battery lifespan, you don't want to charge all the way up to the maximum, and you don't want to drain all the way to the minimum before be- ginning to recharge. Our software can opti- mize battery sweet zones and double the lifes- pan of a battery." In addition, WiBotic's technology gathers large amounts of what the company calls bat- tery intelligence to help optimize battery per- formance. "It can see how batteries are per- Photos courtesy of WiBotic. "OURS IS THE ONLY SYSTEM we're aware of that can provide completely autonomous wireless charging for multiple different drones in a fleet, and can do the same for ground- based robotics and even aquatic systems." Matt Carlson, vice president of business development at Seattle- based WiBotic.

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