WiBotic Blog

WiBotic Blog

WiBotic Co-Founder Josh Smith elected Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors

WiBotic in incredibly proud to announce that Josh Smith, PhD, Co-Founder and Advisor to WiBotic, has been elected to the 2021 class of Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors. Currently a Professor at the University of Washington, Mr. Smith holds a joint appointment in the Allen School and the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.

The National Academy of Inventors is comprised of U.S. and international universities, and governmental and non-profit research institutes, with over 4,000 individual inventor members and Fellows spanning more than 250 institutions worldwide. It’s goal is to recognize and encourage academic inventors who help develop and commercialize technologies that make the world a better place.

Congratulations Josh!

For more information, read the University of Washington’s announcement here.

Join the AFWERX Challenge as a Speaker or Participant

See WiBotic compete with other technology teams at the AFWERX Challenge Feb. 9 to help the Department of Defense become less reliant on fossil fuels, improve Air Force capabilities, and allow for more effective warfighting and humanitarian missions.

AFWERX is finalizing its agenda, speakers, and panelists. If you have anyone in your network that would be a great speaker or panelist, please connect them with Evelyn Sabino. AFWERX’s goal is to connect innovators with as many government leaders as possible to help them make connections, learn how to work with the government, evaluate their technology, etc.

AFWERX brings together some of the top minds in industry, academia and the military to develop innovative, viable solutions to further strengthen the U.S. Air Force. 

See our presentation and apply to speak on Feb. 9.  

WiBotic Selected to Compete in AFWERX Energy Showcase

WiBotic was selected by the United States Air Force as one of 179 participating teams to compete in the AFWERX Challenge. The challenge is centered around six different categories, all designed to uncover opportunities to help the Department of Defense (DoD) become less reliant on fossil fuels, improve Air Force capabilities, and/or allow for more effective warfighting and humanitarian missions.

WiBotic is competing in the Energy Transmission and Distribution Challenge, which strives to identify ways to transport and distribute energy to where it is needed, and improve how the DoD consumes energy. Currently the DoD is the U.S. Government’s largest fossil fuel consumer and the single largest energy consumer globally. Its reliance on fossil fuels is both a paramount combat enabler, and a potentially crippling vulnerability.

Why WiBotic?

WiBotic’s wireless charging solutions greatly enhance the working efficiency of drones, robots and AUVs. As these vehicles become increasingly dependent on battery technology, and shift away from fossil fuels, the demand for autonomous wireless charging has intensified.

WiBotic’s specific benefits, applicable to both AFWERX and wider industry, include:

  • Plug and Play interoperability between departments, agencies and allies. WiBotic’s onboard chargers are fully programmable and transmitter stations are universal, so diverse fleets can share a common charging infrastructure regardless of battery chemistry, voltage or charge current.    
  • Decreased risk of system failure in harsh environments. With contact-based charging, physical electrical contacts must perfectly align, and be impervious to water, dirt, corrosion, and physical damage while being used repeatedly in difficult environmental conditions. Such contacts simply don’t exist today.
  • WiBotic fleet energy management software allows remote visibility into an entire network of transmitters and onboard chargers, optimizing device uptime across the entire organization or battlefield.
  • WiBotic technology lets autonomous devices charge themselves reliably, so robots can focus on their mission.

AFWERX brings together some of the top minds in industry, academia and the military to develop innovative, viable solutions to further strengthen the U.S. Air Force. We’re excited to compete in the program!

WiBotic Joined the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute.

Today WiBotic joined the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute. ARM’s mission is to work with its members to realize the promise of a robust manufacturing innovation ecosystem, by integrating institutional knowledge and a diverse collection of robotic industry best practices for both technology and workforce advancements. ARM focuses on disciplines that span the entire robotic ecosystem, from sensor technologies to software and artificial intelligence to quality control. Of course, battery charging is a critical component for all robot operations, and since WiBotic’s technology is at the leading edge of innovation in that area, we are perfectly positioned to help ARM members optimize power delivery to single robots or across entire fleets.

Our membership in ARM is particularly exciting, as WiBotic has an acute interest in supporting the American manufacturing sector. Domestic manufacturing and strong national defense are deeply interconnected, yet more than 63,000 U.S. factories have closed since 2001. This is a trend we’re committed to reversing.

We’re also excited about the workforce development aspects of ARM. Their funding of programs like apprenticeships and career pathways identify skills gaps in the manufacturing workforce and give students, job seekers and incumbent workers knowledge of and access to essential skills to continue technical training. These efforts provide a material benefit to industry directly, and by extension, enable us to foster the very best talent to grow our team.

We’re excited to join ARM and we look forward to partnering towards these shared objectives.

WiBotic Unlocks New Capabilities with Rev 13 Firmware

WiBotic has released a new version of firmware and the Control Panel software used to monitor and configure our wireless power hardware. This new version, Revision 13, makes the system easier to configure and use, and includes the following important new features:

  • Common Names for Transmitters and Onboard Chargers: The feature improves the ability to monitor individual robots and transmitters by assigning them common names, such as “Aisle 4 TR”, “Pallet Robot 2”, or “Rosie” or “Optimus Prime” – whatever you’d like!
  • Power Supply Mode – This feature configures the system to operate as a current-limited constant-voltage DC power supply for certain applications. It disables settings that are specific to battery charging, allowing for uninterrupted DC power output.  This feature is particularly useful for robots that already have an onboard battery charger or for applications that need a fixed voltage input and can benefit from the seamless operation of a wireless supply instead of a tethered or benchtop supply. Unlike benchtop power supplies, wireless power supplies require that the load current ramps up gradually, or the system will voltage limit. It is therefore important to consider how quickly the load consumes power when using this feature.
  • High Temperature Charging: The new firmware also addresses a top safety concern for robot operators, safe battery charging at high ambient temperatures. New high-temperature charging safeguards keep the system from charging a battery if the OC senses the ambient temperature is greater than 45C – the maximum safe charging temperature for most Lithium battery chemistries. This feature can be disabled by the operator in situations where the OC is in a different location than the battery.

Additional “behind the scenes” improvements with the firmware include more rapid and reliable reading and writing of log files to the transmitter’s SD card; logging of additional metadata related to the charge cycle; and radio communication improvements between the transmitter and OC for better communications reliability.

Customers can take advantage of these updates today by navigating to the “Update” menu in the WiBotic Control Panel and clicking on the “Check for Updates” button. 

WiBotic Wireless Charger Now Compatible with New NVIDIA Jetson Modules

WiBotic is pleased to announce the availability of a CAN Bus communications link between our Onboard Chargers and NVIDIA’s newest processors for robotics applications.

NVIDIA® Jetson AGX Xavier™ sets a new bar for compute density, energy efficiency, and AI inferencing capabilities on edge devices, and Jetson Xavier™ NX brings supercomputer performance to the edge in a small form factor system-on-module (SOM). For this reason, Jetson has become an extremely popular platform for sensor-intensive robot navigation and control, synthesizing data and responding to environmental factors with blazing speed. 

When it comes to battery charging, though, most robot controllers just aren’t that smart. Blindly returning to the charging station when the battery runs low, robots simply accept whatever voltage and current the charging dock provides. This process happens over and over, cycle after cycle, with little regard for how charging is affecting the battery or the efficiency of the entire robot fleet. You could say it’s like eating the same food at every meal, for life. Boring, and not particularly healthy.

WiBotic changes that paradigm with intelligent wireless charging hardware and Fleet Energy Management software that charges batteries intelligently to maximize both battery life and robot fleet uptime. 

For instance, most chargers are hard-wired to reach 100% State of Charge (SOC) at the end of each cycle. They often do this by sending as much current as possible regardless of the battery’s age or condition. This type of “traditional” charging might be OK if the robot must return to service right away, but it’s a recipe for quickly degraded batteries and high battery replacement costs, especially where large fleets of robots are deployed.

In contrast, WiBotic’s intelligent chargers are designed to communicate directly with the robot controller to make better charging decisions.  For instance, if the robot naturally pauses during the workday, why not take those opportunities to find the nearest charger for a quick top-off? If you have all night to charge, why degrade the battery by blasting it with the maximum charge current? And if your robots are already operating all day on a single charge, why not experiment with an 80% or 90% max charge level? You’ll still complete the necessary work but may get hundreds more charge cycles from the same batteries.

With CAN Bus support built into NVIDIA® Jetson AGX Xavier™ and Xavier NX™, and a wide range of available carrier boards for simple hardware integration, we knew it would be easy to implement the above features – and it was! WiBotic also offers (ROS) drivers and a powerful Onboard API to make the integration process even simpler. 

In short, once communication between Xavier and the WiBotic Onboard Charger is established, operators can finally make intelligent charging decisions to maximize productivity from each robot. Apply these capabilities across a fleet of 10s or 100s of robots and now you’re talking real Fleet Energy Management

Contact us if you’d like to learn more. We’re always happy to help customers put their robots on a more balanced diet!

Wireless Charging Applications in the COVID Era: How Contact-free Charging Keeps Robots Moving and Humans Safe

One of the biggest challenges employers face is how to provide a work environment safer from COVID-19 while not disrupting productivity or adding staff.  COVID-19 has placed significant pressure on some companies to grow with limited ability to add staff. For example, e-commerce companies are experiencing a dramatic increase in orders and must increase productivity. Many companies are turning to autonomous mobile robots to automate processes, enable social distancing, and help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.  Wireless autonomous charging from WiBotic helps keep those robots running reliably.

1: Telepresence for social distancing

While telepresence robots have been available for many years, the COVID-19 crisis has quickly demonstrated their enhanced value in certain applications. For instance, rather than exposing medical staff to highly contagious environments, telepresence robots can bring medical expertise to any bedside – especially for smaller hospitals that may lack specialists. Even for more common administrative jobs, it has become clear that audio/video-conferencing applications aren’t always a good fit. A robot capable of moving throughout a facility creates a “conference room” anywhere it is needed.

Medical telepresence robots bring expertise to every bedside.

But telepresence robots, especially in the medical field, need charging systems that are not only reliable, but also simple to use and easy to clean.  Floor based charging systems (typically contact-based) get dirty and can trap germs while fully sealed wireless wall mounted systems are unobtrusive and easy to sanitize.

2: Fewer workers on the warehouse floor

COVID-19 has accelerated warehouse operations for ecommerce. Rather than add staff and increase the risk of COVID-19 exposure, e-commerce companies are turning to autonomous mobile robots to augment and support the workforce. For instance, efficiencies are gained with robots meeting employees at specific locations in a warehouse to expedite order fulfillment. This allows employees to remain in a relatively confined area rather than walking throughout the facility, making it easier to adhere to social distancing guidelines.  

Wireless charging works even when robot and transmitter are misaligned.

To be truly valuable, though, robots need to operate with as little human intervention as possible.  While any autonomous charging mechanism can remove humans from the charging process, some systems are more reliable than others.  With contact-based charging, if a robot stops short or approaches the charging station at the wrong angle, charging often fails and re-docking must be attempted – wasting valuable time.  Conversely, WiBotic’s wireless charging system offers several centimeters of positional flexibility, ensuring a full power charge even if the robot is off target. 

Wireless systems are also 100% contact free, allowing for an unlimited number to charging cycles with little or no charging station maintenance. A key benefit of this feature is the ability to employ  “opportunity charging”.  Opportunity charging is the use of wireless charging stations placed strategically throughout the facility to charge robots as they operate in their workspace.  Rather than taking time to visit a remote charging wall or room, robots can be charged more frequently, but for shorter periods of time, anywhere they would naturally pause (i.e. conveyor loading zones, human picking stations, aisle end-caps).  Adding energy to the robot’s battery throughout the day allows for maximum runtime and productivity without an increase the number of robots or people on the floor.   

3: Cleaning and disinfection with autonomous robots

In addition to maintaining social distancing and helping smaller teams do more, wireless charging is particularly useful for disinfection and cleaning robots. Often operating overnight when humans are not present, these robots must have the ability to reliably dock and recharge on their own. For the same reasons mentioned before, contact based systems can fail and lead to incomplete or missed disinfection cycles.

Robots can carry UV bulbs or spray disinfectant.

Further, charging stations for these robots can be relatively bulky, taking up floor space in warehouses and retail locations where every square foot counts.  If several different types of robots are used in the same facility, the issues are compounded since each robot will have a different proprietary charging station.  WiBotic’s programmable wireless system solves this problem.  A single transmitter can charge many different battery chemistries and voltages, and at charge rates (amps) that are configurable on a charge cycle-by-cycle basis if desired.  Wireless systems can also be installed in floors or in walls, completely flush with surrounding surfaces, to eliminate tripping hazards.  Because there are no protruding contact points, there is also no opportunity for contacts to become damp, dirty, or corroded from regular janitorial activities such as mopping.

4: Food & Pharmacy Delivery

Robotic delivery of food and medicine is a growing segment of the autonomous robot industry. This fall, for example, universities plan to deliver hundreds of meals per day to students using refrigerated cases on robots. Robots limit the number of hands touching the product and improve social distancing by taking items directly to people in their dorm rooms, offices, or homes. Wireless charging extends the range of robots and can be used opportunistically to provide a reliable charge between deliveries. It also removes the risks of dirt and water in outdoor operations because wireless charging ports aren’t impeded by grime, dust, water, or other layers.

Robots and wireless charging can help employees return to work safely by growing teams’ capabilities, limiting unnecessary exposure, enabling disinfection, and allowing workers to clean the workplace more safely.  For consumers, they offer access to specialized resources and fewer opportunities for coronavirus exposure.  The combination of autonomous mobile robots and wireless charging enables businesses a way to address these needs with reliable technology that supports continuous autonomous operations without human intervention.

CONTACT US for more information on how wireless charging improves robot deployments