Tag Archives: drones

Wireless Charging for Drones

Drones face a significant operating challenge—their limited battery capacity places a constraint on their flight time. More flexible and efficient recharging solutions can address this issue. A 4-year old startup, WiBotic, now has funding to explore this avenue. WiBotic designs and manufactures solutions to charge robot and drone batteries.

WiBotic offers power optimization and wireless charging solutions for mobile, aerial, marine, and industrial robots. Their Adaptive Matching technology is a new method for inductive power transfer. The company is providing power levels necessary for charging flying devices such as drones.

Software libraries monitor battery charge parameters in detail for providing optimization solutions. Combined with wireless charging hardware, the strategic deployment of these software features helps with the optimization of drone uptime. Wireless charging solutions from WiBotic also schedule the recharge, allowing multiple drones to charge from the same transmitter at various times.

Nikola Tesla was the first to demonstrate, in the late nineteenth century, the use of electromagnetic fields as a source of electricity transfer without wires. Although engineers are aware of the wireless methodology, the design of an entire system consisting of transmitters and receivers, their locations, and maximizing their efficiency is a complex challenge requiring specific skills. Most wireless power transfer systems use inductive coupling or magnetic resonance with their individual strengths and weaknesses.

Inductive coupling is the most common method, usually found on consumer devices. However, they are efficient only when the transmitter and the receiver antennas are close together. Therefore, this method is not suitable for drones and robots as they cannot position themselves so that their inductive systems are close enough to provide a reliable power transfer.

The technology of magnetic resonance is one of the latest providing more flexibility in positioning. Most magnetic resonance systems have a special area for delivering power with maximum efficiency. If the robot or the drone stops in this area only briefly or remains off-center, the charging efficiency reduces, and the charging time increases.

WiBotic technology incorporates the best of both systems and operates on the strengths of both resonant and inductive systems. They have a patented Adaptive Matching system to constantly monitor relative antenna positions, while dynamically adjusting both hardware and firmware parameters for maintaining maximum efficiency. This ensures delivery of high-power levels and reliable charging, even when several centimeters of angular, horizontal, or vertical offsets separate the transmitter and the receiver.

For drones, the WiBotic wireless charging station is a square platform of about 3 ft x 3 ft. It has an intelligent induction plate that determines the type of battery the drone has and establishes the proper charging parameters for it.

WiBotic wireless charging systems all have four primary hardware components—the transmitter antenna coil, the receiver antenna coil, the on-board charging unit, and the transmitter unit.

Using an AC source, the transmitting unit produces a high-frequency wireless signal, that travels to the transmitting antenna coil and generates electric and magnetic fields.

The transmitter unit has the capability to recognize an incoming drone equipped with a receiver antenna coil, which automatically activates itself to receive the right amount of energy.

What is Special about the SkyX Drones?

SkyX is a drone maker from Markham, Ontario. This startup has some unique designs for industrial drones. For instance, the SkyOne drone of the company can take off and land without needing a runway. That is, its takeoff and landing is more like that of a helicopter, but in flight, the drone resembles an airplane more closely. In technical terms of the drone industry, the SkyOne has both Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) and fixed-wing elements, while flying more than 40 km on one charge.

SkyOne has a plethora of sensors and cameras on-board, enabling the drone to collect data about anything below it. It then sends the collected data to cloud-based applications for analysis. For launching and landing the drone, SkyX provides proprietary charging stations, which the company calls xStations. When the drone is not moving, the xStation closes a shell over the UAV, protecting them from theft, and charging them. The charging stations charge the batteries within the drone directly, rather than removing and replacing them.

Other drone producing companies such as Matternet allow their UAVs to land on charging stations, where their depleted batteries are swapped with fresh ones. Charging stations can be positioned along a route, giving the drone a virtually unlimited range. This scenario is likely to continue unless battery technology and other power systems improve significantly.
Didi Horn, the founder and CEO of SkyX, had earlier worked for the Israel Air Force. As he always wanted to develop drones and aviation for commercial use, he went in for the long-range UAV consumer market, where the demand was huge, and the products scarce. According to Horn, the world already has millions of kilometers of oil and gas pipelines, all at the risk of leaks and/or terror attacks.

The oil and natural gas industry faces its biggest challenges when inspecting its pipelines for leakages or damages. Its critical infrastructure can be difficult to monitor, especially when the lines cover several kilometers, often crossing inhospitable terrain. For instance, the Internal Energy Agency claims the expenditure on pipeline monitoring alone costs energy companies more than $37 billion every year.

Initially, SkyX is targeting the energy industry, since its UAVs and charging stations can then be configured to cover long distances from one pumping station to the next along pipelines carrying oil and gas. According to Horn, the drones can also cover vast farms carrying acres of solar panels installed on them. Likewise, the UAVs can also be used for inspecting wind turbines installed in remote areas. As the xStations are capable of plugging into typical electrical outlets, they can be connected to solar panels or any other freestanding generators as well.

While the drones being used in the field today have some features still under development, SkyX is working with several energy companies for conducting pilot projects and safety tests in the US. Although the drones can fly autonomously, the company has to secure permissions for flying beyond the line of sight of human observers on the ground.

In the long run, apart from improving the efficiency, energy companies may find using drones from SkyX to be less expensive.

Farming With Drones & Robots

According to Heidi Johnson, crops and soil agent for Dane County, Wisconsin, “Farmers are the ultimate “innovative tinkerers”.” Farming, through the ages, has undergone vast changes. Although in developing worlds, you will still find stereotype farmers planting his seeds and praying for rain and good weather while waiting for his crops to grow, farm technology has progressed. Therefore, we now have twenty-four hour farming and driverless combines and autonomous tractors have moved out of agro-science fiction. Farmers now are good at developing things that are close to what they need.

For example, the Farm Tech Days Show has farmers discussing technology ranging from the latest sensors to cloud processing for optimizing their yield and robotics that can improve manual tasks. Most farmers are already aware of data analytics, cloud services, molecular science, robotics, drones and climate change among other technological jargon. The latest buzz in the agricultural sector is about managing farms that are not a single field, but distributed in multiple small units. This requires advanced mapping and GPS for tailoring daily activities such as the amount of water and fertilizer that each plant needs.

That naturally leads to observation, measurements and responding in real time. Because such precision farming means technological backup, with data being the crux of the issue to respond to what is actually happening in the field. A farmer would always like to know when his plants are suffering and the cause of their suffering.

For example, farmers want sensors that can tell them about the nutrient levels in the soil at a more granular level – potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen, etc. They also want to know how fast the plant is taking up such nutrients – the flow rate. This information must come in real time from sensors and there must be diagnostic tools to make sense of the data.

Although NIFA, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture were talking about the Internet of Ag Things, the concept is not new to farmers. In fact, farmers are already collecting information from both air and ground. They are doing this by flying drones, inserting moisture sensors into ground and placing crop sensors in machines when spraying and applying fertilizers.

Presently, what farmers are lacking is a cost effective, adequate broadband connection. Although Internet connectivity exists even in remote areas, thanks to satellite linkages, these are not cost effective to the farmer, as they have to deal with increasing amounts of data flow.

The current method farmers use is to collect data from the field on an SD card or thumb drive and plug it into their home computers. They transfer this data for analysis to services where crop consultants or co-operative experts are available. The entire process of turnaround takes a few days.

What farmers need is end-node farming equipment with the necessary computing power. This could help with processing and editing the raw data and sending only the relevant part direct to a cloud service. This requires an automated process and a real-time operation. With farms getting bigger, farmers need to cover much more acreage, while dealing with labor shortage and boosting yields in their farms.

Solar Powered Drone Beams Internet

Certain regions of the Earth are presently out of the ambit of the Internet. Nearly 10% of the population or more than 4 billion people live so far from fiber optic cables or cell towers that they are unable to reach the Internet. Facebook is set to end this isolation by having a drone fly overhead while beaming Internet down to such areas.

At their Connectivity Lab, which is a division of Facebook’s Internet.org, researchers confirm the completion of such a drone. This is the first step Facebook is taking before it builds a larger fleet. They have not yet flown the craft, but Facebook has already been testing their concept over the UK with versions one-tenth the size. They intend to conduct flight tests of the full-size drone before the end of this year.

Facebook will be using the solar-powered V-shaped carbon fiber craft, named Aquila or Eagle (in Latin), for beaming down wireless Internet connectivity to expand Internet access. About a year ago, Facebook launched Internet.org. Although their intentions were to provide Internet access to those in the world who do not have a reliable connection, the project has received a lot of dissension for not adhering to net neutrality – especially in India.

Facebook has designed and built Aquila in 14 months. The drone will fly in the air for 90 days without touchdown. To launch it up into the air initially, technicians will be attaching Helium balloons to the plane.

With a wingspan of 46 yards or 42 meters, Aquila has to move constantly to stay aloft. Therefore, it will circle a three-km or two-mile radius. During the day, when the craft can generate energy from the sun, it will float up to 90-thousand feet or 30 Km. However, the craft drifts down to 60-thousand feet or 20 Km at night for conserving energy. While not planning to sell the drones at present, Facebook intends to use them for expanding Internet access.

The research team has been able to increase the data capacity of the lasers involved in the project. This is one of the biggest breakthroughs as the new system can communicate at speeds of 10 GB per second using a ground-based laser to talk to the dome on the underbelly of the plane. This is about 10 times faster than the current capabilities allow.

Facebook is not alone in their endeavors to bring wireless Internet to rural regions. Rivals Google also have a program up their sleeve – Project Loon. They plan to put up high-altitude Helium balloons with transmitters attached. Although Google has not launched their project yet, they claim it is in a more advanced stage compared to where Aquila is at present.

Therefore, very soon, you may see a huge 900 lb. drone nearly the size of a Boeing 737, slowly circling 11 miles up in the sky. Currently, Facebook’s mission is mired in controversy. All over the world, critics are questioning several practices of Facebook’s Internet.org on security, fairness and privacy grounds. There is a danger countries may spy on and repress their citizens. In addition, first-time users of the Internet might be limited to what Facebook provides them as news and information.

CORATAM with the Raspberry Pi

The ubiquitous Single Board Computer, the Raspberry Pi, or the RBPi is a perfectly suitable candidate for CORATAM or Control of Aquatic Drones for Maritime Tasks. Sitting within each drone, an RBPi becomes a part of a swarm of robotic systems. Portugal is using this novel method for exploring and exploiting its maritime opportunities as the sea is one of the country’s main resources. Although land-based and air-based swarms of robots have been extensively used for studying the aquatic environment for the proposed expansion of Portugal’s continental shelf, swarms in aquatic environments are a different breed altogether.

Tasks in aquatic environment are usually expensive to conduct. This is because of all the special operational requirements of manned vehicles and support crews. Therefore, Portugal has thought of an alternative approach where they have used collectives of relatively simple and inexpensive aquatic robot swarms. As each robot is easily replaceable, these have a high potential of applicability for essential tasks such as prospecting sites for sea border patrolling, bridges inspection, sea life localization, environmental monitoring, aquaculture, and so on.

The collectives of robots work on a decentralized control based on the principles of self-organization. This gives them the capability of performing efficiently on tasks that require robustness to faults, scalability, and distributed sensing.

With the development of CORATAM, Portugal is hoping to achieve three main objectives. The first is to explore the novel approach of control synthesis in a set of maritime tasks, but in the real world. The second is to develop a swarm of aquatic robots with fault-tolerant ad-hoc network architecture, heterogeneous in nature and scalable. The third is to disclose all the hardware and software components developed under an open-source license, to enable others to build their own aquatic robots.

Each robot is about 60 cm in length, and inexpensive, as the designers have used all widely available, off-the-shelf hardware. Each robot uses a differential drive mono-hull boat, which can travel at a maximum speed of 1.7 m/s, in a straight line. The maximum angular speed the robots can achieve is 90°/s.

An RBPi-2 SBC supports the on-board control of each robot. They communicate via a wireless protocol (802.11g Wi-Fi) and each broadcasts its UDP datagram. The neighboring robots and the monitoring station receive the broadcast, forming a distributed network without any central coordination or a single point of failure. All robots are equipped with compass sensors and GPS, and each broadcasts its position to the neighboring robots every second.

All robots use prototype hardware, making it inexpensive when compared to the majority of the commercially available unmanned surface vehicles. Therefore, the robots serve as a platform suitable for research and development, and easily maintainable. Additionally, the open source nature of the platforms makes them suitable for different manufacturing processes, sensory payloads, design choices, and different actuators to be used.

An artificial neural network-based controller controls each robot. The normalized readings of the sensors form the inputs of the neural network, while the output of the network controls the actuators on the robots. Each sensor reading and actuation value is updated every 100 ms.

This Drone Avoids Obstacles When It Sees Them

If you thought drones could only fly and had to be manually guided around obstacles, the information you have is about five years old. Within the last few years, drones available to the average consumer have progressed by leaps and bounds. Most drones possess an onboard computer system that allows them to navigate autonomously. They can follow along with their owner or lead a path defined by GPS waypoints, capturing alluring aerial footages on the way.

Up until now, the drones that we came across were blind to their surroundings. They were able to capture photos, but if a ski lift or a big tree got in their path, the drones did not have the capability to change course to avoid it. With the First Guidance System from DJI, all that is now relegated to history.

The First Guidance System comes with a combination of stereo cameras and ultrasonic sensors. They allow the drone to detect objects as far away as 65 feet or 20 meters and take recourse to keeping itself at a preconfigured distance. This robust sense and avoid technology not only helps to integrate drones into everyday life, but also enables ambitious projects such as the Prime Air of Amazon.

Just as the robotic driverless car does, drones can now move about towns and cities, capturing new footages, delivering packages or even handing out parking tickets. According to DJI, research teams are using their guidance system for some unique applications. For example, Fudan University at Shanghai has created an aerial solution with Intel processors for aerial detection of illegally parked cars.

A new Matrice 100 drone from DJI powers the guidance system. DJI has made the system as a developer-friendly craft that users can modify for specific tasks across different industries, even acting as a testbed for experimental work. DJI is pushing this not only at the hardware manufacturers, but also as a platform for the entire drone industry.

On the drone, you will find additional expansion bays. These allow you to add components and customize the payload, allowing it to fly with any device of your choice. For example, you can put communication tools, computing boards, sensors, cameras and more into the sky. This allows you to complete your complex jobs from a birds-eye view, while the drone gathers data.

For example, using devices from DJI or third parties, you can connect and fly the drone and transmit data to ground in real time. With dual parallel CAN ports, the Matrice 100 connects DJI devices such as the Guidance sensor systems, while Dual parallel UART ports allow connecting third party components.

You can extend the flying time of your drone by up to 40 minutes with the help of an additional battery. The adjustable arm angle for each of the four arms allows greater yaw torque and response. The rigid, strong and lightweight carbon fiber frame of the Matrice 100 offers unmatched reliability and reduces stiffness. Soft vibration-absorbing material, lining the arms, eliminates nearly all feedback from the powerful motors. That keeps all critical components stable while allowing unparalleled accuracy.