Startup eyes longer drone flights with remote, wireless power

remote power drone flights

Limited battery capacity has been the primary brake on operating longer drone flights, but tech developed by a Washington state company may hold the key to powering UAV longer – perhaps indefinitely – through its remote charging application.

For now, the wireless power approach by Redmond-based Ossia is being marketed to business devices like smartphones, pads, and other mobile electronic equipment used in facilities such as retail outlets, warehouses, and factories. Its patented Cota Real Wireless Power transmitter essentially distributes electricity like Wi-Fi signals. Its RF smart antenna automatically keeps multiple connected devices charged without any user action, permitting connected objects to operate on constant in-coming power flows.

Before long, Ossia hopes to adapt Cota to remotely power drone flights as well, and thus extend UAV missions far beyond what batteries enable.

Last month Ossia received approval from regulators in the European Union and UK for operation of Cota power units at unlimited distances. The Federal Communications Commission has also cleared the tech as safe and efficient, but for now is limiting its use to just one meter between the antenna and receiving device. 

Those contrasting rulings don’t affect deployment much: Ossia says its current system transmits relatively low levels of wireless power transmission about 10 meters in all directions. But developments under way, it adds, should break through distance limitations to virtually any range by 2023. 

It’s at that point when Cota could theoretically start remote powering longer drone flights.

Unlike Wi-Fi, which establishes and requires a largely unbroken beam to remain connected to a device, Cota uses reflective objects in its zone of operation to bounce power to its target until direct contact is restored. To do that, Cota tracks linked objects to provide continued energy supplies – a capacity essential to eventual use by drones.

Meanwhile, Ossia says its electricity receptors are small compared to batteries – which in UAV scenario would be replaced by direct energy anyway. If developed as planned, that could mean extended, possibly indefinite remote powering of drone missions, and potentially increased payloads once batteries have been shrunk or discarded altogether.

Other innovative recharging methods to allow continual drone operation have been tested before, but most have proven disappointing. Many have involved induction or other wireless charging platforms that still require craft to quit applied operations long enough to get to the stations and re-juice. Ossia says, if developed as the company hopes, Cota will avoid that step by remotely powering drone flights as they continue.

Despite the futuristic potentials that development may hold, Ossia still sees Cota’s initial use by drones in relatively limited mission ranges, such as monitoring activity in storage and logistics facilities, or in continued surveillance of sensitive or vulnerable sites. 

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