A small startup operating out of Newfoundland in Canada is working on a big problem that could have tremendous impact on the future of the drone industry. In partnership with Boeing, Solace Power will expand the viability and efficacy of a system it developed for recharging unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) wirelessly, using energy transmitters that communicate across distances with receivers on drones to keep said gadgets in the air for longer periods of time without requiring the kind of landing and battery swap operation or physical contact charge that most currently require.
The startup has been operating mostly under the radar thus far (GET IT??) but this week it announced investment from Industry Canada, an official government investing body that has providing funding assistance through Boeing to help develop the tech in order to serve Canada’s military procurement needs.
Solace uses ‘resonant capacitive coupling,’ which is derived from the original wireless power experiments run by Nicola Tesla over a hundred years ago. Using this type of wireless charging tech allows for flexibility when it comes to the size and shape of the receiver drawing power, as well as more freedom when it comes to aligning the transmitter and receiver for proper power transmission from point A to B.
The company already licenses its tech for use in various industries, with potential applications in powering electric vehicles, battery-powered equipment worn as part of a soldier’s kit, or fully contained slip rings, which are ring motors or dynamos used frequently in the construction of robots, helicopters, security cameras and more.
In the video above you can see a video of their drone charging pad in action, with the green LED letting you know when the robot is actually charging its battery. It works at a distance, as you can see, and without requiring special orientation (the drone just has to be above the panel). In terms of autonomous flight, this could mean less overall inactive time for fleets of commercial, agricultural or industrial drones, since they can incorporate brief runs over charging surfaces into their flight plans to keep them airborne. In some instances, it might even make sense to build charging elements directly into surfaces over which drones will be working regularly, like in warehouses or fixed factory sites.
Battery life remains one the primary, if not the single most influential, limiting factors when it comes to autonomous drone deployment and design. Solace Power’s solution, developed in tandem with Boeing, could provide an answer that avoids the need for meteoric advancements in the batteries themselves.