If drones and other autonomous crafts are going to perpetually perform tasks like aerial surveillance or delivering packages and goods, they need a reliable method of recharging batteries with minimal (if any at all) human intervention. Wireless and UAV charging methods have gone hand-in-hand over recent years, as several startups and larger corporate entities have begun working towards making these achievements possible. One of these companies is Seattle-based startup WiBotic, which is developing a suite of wireless charging technology and battery management software that could allow drones to land on base stations for quick or slower battery-friendly overnight recharges.
The startup recently raised $2.5 million in seed funding, as they try to perfect wireless power through various technologies for a wide range of applications. The Seattle area alone contains companies like Ossia and LaserMotive, both of which are working on projects like wirelessly charging multiple devices in one room, and beaming power to drones in flight or crafts in space.
Although wireless charging has existed for a considerably long time, the concept is still in its infancy. Most people don’t realize they have at least one appliance or electronic in their homes that charge wirelessly—like an electric toothbrush. Some might describe the current market for wireless charging as “bullish,” with some revenue projections saying the industry could be valued as high as $25 billion by 2023.
WiBotic is focusing on industries where human intervention isn’t just an inconvenience, but a genuine hindrance to cost savings promised by autonomous systems. Commercial drones or robot operators working in a movie set or construction site might need up to 100 batteries for a day’s worth of flying, depending on the size of their fleet. Most operators spend large portions of their days swapping batteries and monitoring which ones have been charged.
Drones containing WiBotic’s resonant induction wireless charging technology could land on a base station for an automatic recharge with no cords attached to them, or bands on the device to change a battery. The importance of autonomous recharging only grows with the drone’s size or robot fleet, especially with crafts expected to operate continuously.
In a prototype demonstration, a transmitter circuit is embedded in a drone landing pad or robotic docking station that connects to a coil, whose shape, size, and weight can be customizable for specific applications. Upon approaching, a drone’s presence is detected by the system. A receiver coil mounted on (or embedded in) the drone then begins to receive power. One of the advantages of WiBotic’s system is the software can “adaptively tune” the resonance of the transmit and receiver coils, optimizing their frequency to account for changing distances and orientations in between.
If the drone doesn’t make a precise landing on the pad, it can still establish a strong connection to the power source. Software monitoring the relative position of the coil can provide feedback to help improve the precision of autonomous landings. Coils are tuned for optimal charging, even when the drone and base station are imperfectly aligned. Coils also provide battery intelligence and management, which is useful to companies deploying larger fleets. When a drone’s work is complete for the day, the unmanned crafts can slowly replenish their batteries, which is optimal for battery longevity.