WiBotic sees passively cooled wireless charging

Interviews |
By Nick Flaherty

Wireless charging startup WiBotic has launched a range of hardware and software to boost the operation robotic systems. The technology is also being applied to its space project.

“We’re introducing features that have been long requested. Everybody wants smaller, faster charging, higher environmental rating, less fans for enhanced reliability and that makes operating robots indoor and outdoors easier,” said Ben Waters, CEO of Seattle-based WiBotic told eeNews Power.

The 300W OC-262 is a passively cooled onboard charger that was originally developed as a ruggedized system for the US Department of Defense, but is now being released for wider use in response to customer demand. “The OC-262 is our first passively cooled design with a metal baseplate so that thermals are handled very nicely and this allows the enclosure to be fully sealed without exposed contacts for charging so we have IP67 rating,” he said.

WiBotic is also using the technology for a space project with Astrobotic and Bosch.

“We are officially underway with the Tipping Point contract and a lot of the things we learned in the design of the passively cooled OC-262 are being applied to the designs for space as you can’t use fans. It’s a 2.5 year contract so in a year or so we expect to have prototypes and continue to build them towards full space qualification for temperature and radiation. It’s definitely a challenge as this is targeted for the lunar night where its extremely cold and you don’t have a guarantee of solar as a backup for two weeks,” he said.  

The OC-150 is a compact and lightweight onboard charger (OC) that delivers up to 150W of total power and up to 10A of current depending upon battery voltage. As with other OCs, it supports multiple battery chemistries and has an output voltage range of 9V to 58.5V.

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WiBotic has worked with GaN Systems on the latest wideband semiconductors for the RF side of the wireless charging for a15-W system.

“GaN FETs are used on the TR-150 docking station and that compared to the previous versions has reduce din size and is more efficient and with that comes better temperature performance and lower cost

“The GaN is in the RF amplifier and on the transmitter its very effective. Any RF amplifier will have a gate drive and in the past we have used MOSFETs and to drive a 100W output amplifier we needed a gate driver that can source 10W. With the GaN FET 100mW in gives you 100W out which is a big advantage. It’s on our roadmap to incorporate GaN into the receiver both in the rectifier and the DC-DC conversion switching converter

“We’ve been very happy with GaN Systems from a technical perspective and support perspective, GaN FETs are so small the challenge is getting the heat away from them and they have been supporting us in our efforts in particular with the higher power parts we use. It’s great to see more people use GaN and more suppliers as it drive more knowledge and drives cost down. The same goes for wireless charging and as adoption grows its helping everybody,” said Waters.

“These new products are just as exciting for GaN Systems as they are for WiBotic.  We continue to believe the market for high-power wireless charging systems is going to explode in the coming years and companies like WiBotic are going to lead the way through the use of GaN technology,” said Paul Wiener, VP of Strategic Marketing at GaN Systems.

Next: Managing battery charging

WiBotic’s new Commander Fleet Energy Management software allows the on-board chargers to now track and report on individual battery charge cycles, termination voltage, charge rate (amps), and other critical factors that determine how a battery will perform day-to-day.

“One of the cool things that’s hidden in the mix is the feature is all the onboard chargers can be used in manual plug-in mode. Many drone companies are not doing BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) operations, so pilots can go out with ten drones and 100 batteries and are charging them all day long. Most of these chargers have zero capabilities of tracking charge cycles and how the cells are performing and logging all this data.” 

“Our onboard chargers have always had two inputs – the RF input from the wireless charging or a DC input from a solar panel or battery bank, or any DC voltage. We’ve always had the ability to have this full time mode input to address the scenario where if the robot runs out of charge so you can plug it in for a few minutes to give it juice to drive back rather than push it back to the wireless charger,” said Waters.

“It’s a new concept. It’s solving a problem that many companies have today and future proofing. We see it as a way to grow the market, especially in the drone space. So we have repurposed the same hardware to recharge things on the bench. The data from each of those batteries is stored in the cloud and gives the user a very clear interface for the status of every single battery in their fleet.

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