South African startup WiPo Wireless Power is developing a wireless charger for drones, which will harvest energy directly from powerline electromagnetic fields to enable drones to fly continuously and autonomously.
Formally launched in February of this year after the team won an Innovation Hub GAP ICT price last year, WiPo Wireless Power is currently rolling out commercial wireless chargers for consumer electronics, but reinvesting profits to cover development costs of the wireless drone chargers.
Founded by a team with over 50 years of combined experience in the power utility and information technology spaces, the wireless drone charging solution WiPo Wireless Power is developing cuts the final cord allowing drones to be truly autonomous, according to co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Jaco du Preez.
“The use of drones is expanding rapidly around the world, from agriculture and conservation to surveying and inspections, but the biggest drawback of drones is the extremely limited flight time due to battery capacity,” du Preez told Disrupt Africa.
“Drones can fly around 10 to 30 minutes of flight on a single battery before the battery needs to be swapped out and recharged over a few hours. This limits the use of drone to quick flights. With charging and powering the drones wirelessly, this problem can be eliminated, thereby making drones truly autonomous and allowing for continuous flight.”
The startup is currently working with an industrial designer to improve the design and efficiency of the charger, ensuring it can get enough power transfer to the drones.
“Our next step is to get the charger manufacture and production ready as well as get all the regulatory and statutory certifications in place,” said du Preez.
“Although the charger for drones is not yet manufacture ready, our business model will focus on manufacturing of the wireless power charger as well as providing value added services such as power line inspections using drone.”
The self-funded startup is also rolling out commercial wireless power chargers to business hubs, conference centres, airports, restaurants and coffee shops, charging cell phones, laptops and other mobile devices.
Though there are several wireless companies globally focused on the same space, du Preez said each firm is developing wireless power using different technologies, trying to solve the problem in alternative ways. He says there has been interest in WiPo’s technology.
“We have found a great number of drone companies being interested in the technology. All of which have the same concerns and problems when it comes to the duration and flight time of drones,” he said.
At this stage the startup is planning on entering the United States (US) and European Union (EU) markets as soon as the various certifications and regulations compliances are in order, but du Preez said access to market is extremely tough at this stage.
“South Africa is in a technical recession, business confidence levels are at a low, and company investment in new products and services are not something companies do easily. So we do what we can to get more awareness out into the market,” he said.