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FCC boosts WiBotic’s wireless charging system

The Federal Communications Commission has given the go-ahead for Seattle-based WiBotic’s wireless charging system to provide up to 300 watts of over-the-air power to robots, drones and other battery-powered devices.

WiBotic says that’s a first for the industry.

“FCC approval is not only an accomplishment for our team, but also for our customers and the industry,” WiBotic CEO Ben Waters said today in a news release.

“Previously, only low-power cellphone and small electronics chargers or very high-power electric vehicle chargers were approved for widespread use,” Waters said. “WiBotic is now providing a solution that lets the entire automation industry take advantage of the wireless power revolution.”

The FCC’s authorization, issued last month, should boost confidence among WiBotic’s customers that the company’s system meets regulatory requirements. “This will let them deploy larger fleets faster than would otherwise be possible,” the company’s vice president for business development, told Unite.ai’s Antoine Tardif in an interview.

WiBotic’s system lets drones charge themselves up automatically when they touch down on a charging pad. Robots can pull up to a charging station and pull in power via antennas. WiBotic is also working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute on a wireless power system for underwater sensors.

The company’s power management software can work with the hardware to optimize battery use for entire fleets of electric-powered machines, without a human ever having to handle a plug. In a June interview, Waters said the hands-off approach is a particularly strong selling point as companies that rely on automation struggle to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

WiBotic, which was spun out from the University of Washington in 2015, reported raising $5.7 million in a Series A funding round in June, bringing total investment to nearly $9 million. Investors in that round included Junson Capital, SV Tech Ventures, Rolling Bay Ventures, Aves Capital, The W Fund and WRF.

The company is working with an array of customers that include Waypoint RoboticsClearpath Robotics and Aero Corp.

This report was published on Cosmic Log. Accept no substitutes.

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Cosmic Tech

Virgin Galactic unveils supersonic plane concept

Virgin Galactic has taken the wraps off a concept for an airplane capable of flying three times the speed of sound, to be developed with support from Boeing and Rolls-Royce.

The project would be distinct from Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital space plane program, which is closing in on the start of commercial operations at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Today’s announcement follows through on the company’s heightened focus on high-speed aircraft development, which is backed by a $20 million investment from Boeing HorizonX and supported by a deal with NASA to collaborate on supersonic projects.

Such an initiative seems likely to pit Virgin Galactic against aerospace industry players that have a head start in the race to revive supersonic travel — ranging from SpaceX and Lockheed Martin to Boom Supersonic, a startup that Virgin Galactic partnered with years ago.

Virgin Galactic says it has signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Rolls-Royce for the development of the plane’s engine propulsion system, has put the design through a mission concept review in cooperation with NASA representatives, and is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to lay out a certification framework for the plane.

George Whitesides, who recently transitioned from CEO to a new position known as chief space officer to work on new projects, said the company has made “great progress so far” on the concept.

“We are excited to complete the mission concept review and unveil this initial design concept of a high-speed aircraft, which we envision as blending safe and reliable commercial travel with an unrivaled customer experience,” Whitesides said in a news release.

The basic parameters of the design include a Mach 3 delta-wing aircraft that would have the capacity to fly nine to 19 people at an altitude above 60,000 feet. Virgin Galactic could provide customized cabin layouts to address customer needs, including business-class or first-class seating. The plane would be designed to use existing airport infrastructure and lead the way in the use of sustainable aviation fuel.

The company provided no timetable for development. Nevertheless, the stock market’s initial reaction to the news was positive — boosting Virgin Galactic’s share price in early trading today.

Commercial supersonic travel faded away in 2003 with the retirement of the British-French Concorde, due to concerns about cost and sonic-boom restrictions. In recent years, NASA and a variety of aerospace ventures have been looking into “quiet-boom” technologies that might make supersonic flight more palatable (and satisfy regulators).

NASA has partnered with Lockheed Martin to build a test aircraft known as the X-59 QueSST, or Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator. The X-59’s first flight is due in the 2021-2022 time frame.

Meanwhile, Aerion Supersonic, Boom Supersonic and Spike Aerospace are among a new crop of supersonic startups hoping to field planes and win FAA certification in the years ahead.

Back in 2016, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson said his company would assist Boom with engineering, design, manufacturing, flight testing and operations — and would take a purchase option on the first 10 airframes. Today’s announcement suggests that Virgin Galactic is now moving in a different direction.

For what it’s worth, Boom is due to roll out its prototype XB-1 supersonic jet in October.

Some wondered whether Virgin Galactic will be arriving too late to the supersonic soiree, or whether its plans for a high-speed aircraft were sufficiently realistic.

“Had to recheck the date on the calendar. Nope, not April 1,” Aviation Week’s Steve Trimble tweeted.

Mars Society President Robert Zubrin, meanwhile, tweeted an illustration showing SpaceX’s planned Starship super-rocket and wrote, “Mach 3 won’t cut it. The competition will be doing Mach 25.”

If Virgin Galactic’s supersonic airplane turns out to be vaporware, at least it’s cool-looking vaporware. Check out these renderings (all copyrighted by Virgin Galactic and used with permission):

Update for 2:30 p.m. PT Aug. 3: Virgin Galactic posted a second-quarter loss of $63 million with zero revenue today, sparking an after-hours drop in its share price. But that wasn’t the most significant news for space fans.

The company said it’s planning to conduct two powered test flights of its SpaceShipTwo Unity rocket plane in New Mexico over the next few months. If those tests prove successful, Branson would get on board for a high-profile SpaceShipTwo flight in the first quarter of 2021.

Virgin Galactic also said it entered into deposit agreements with 12 customers for orbital spaceflights. In June, the company announced a Space Act Agreement with NASA to develop a readiness program for private-sector astronauts heading to the International Space Station.

This report was published on Cosmic Log. Accept no substitutes.

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White House CFO becomes Pentagon’s top techie

White House chief technology officer Michael Kratsios ⁠— who enlisted Amazon, Microsoft and other key players in artificial intelligence and cloud computing to fight COVID-19 ⁠— has himself been recruited for another role as the Defense Department’s top official for technology.

President Donald Trump is designating Kratsios to serve as the acting under secretary of defense for research and engineering — in effect, the Pentagon’s CTO. Kratsios will also keep his CTO role in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The previous under secretary in charge of defense tech, Mike Griffin, stepped down last week to pursue “a private-sector opportunity” along with his deputy.

Kratsios will be in the prime position to help the Pentagon pursue opportunities in emerging technologies such as AI, automation, quantum computing, robotics and 5G wireless services — frontiers that have drawn increasing attention under Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

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FAA and Boeing complete 737 MAX flight tests

The Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing today completed three days’ worth of certification flight tests on the Boeing 737 MAX, but it’ll take weeks longer for the FAA to review the fixes that Boeing made and decide whether to end the yearlong grounding of the planes.

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NASA funds 400 bright ideas from small businesses

NASA says it’ll fund more than 400 ideas from small businesses, aimed at creating technologies ranging from plumbing fixtures suitable for the moon to AI-based medical assistants that can provide “an extra pair of trained eyes” for crews on Mars.

The contracts will provide about $51 million to 312 small businesses in 44 states and Washington, D.C., to support the development of technologies that could come in handy for space exploration or Earth-based applications.

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AWS creates a space force for cloud computing

Amazon Web Services today unveiled a new business unit devoted to developing data infrastructure and cloud services for the aerospace and satellite industry — and headed by someone who helped set up the U.S. Space Force.

The Aerospace and Satellite Solutions business segment will be headed by retired Air Force Major Gen. Clint Crosier, former director of Space Force Planning.

“We find ourselves in the most exciting time in space since the Apollo missions,” Crosier said in today’s announcement from Amazon. “I have watched AWS transform the IT industry over the last 10 years and be instrumental in so many space milestones. I am honored to join AWS to continue to transform the industry and propel the space enterprise forward.”

The unveiling was announced by Teresa Carlson at the AWS Public Sector Summit Online. “Whether on Earth or in space, AWS is committed to understanding our customers’ missions,” she said.

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FAA and Boeing begin flight tests for 737 MAX

Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration took a major step toward returning the troubled 737 MAX to full operation today with the first of a series of flights aimed at recertifying the jet in the wake of two catastrophic crashes.

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Elon Musk starts another catfight with Jeff Bezos

Another tweet, another catfight: Billionaire CEO Elon Musk has once again accused super-billionaire Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos of being a copycat.

This time, Musk took aim at Amazon’s $1.2 billion acquisition of Zoox, a venture focusing on self-driving cars that could compete with Tesla, the car company that Musk heads.

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HyperSciences pushes ahead with blaster tech

HyperSciences has raised more than $9 million for its hypersonic blaster technology using an unusual crowdfunding model, but now it’s working to attract millions more in investment the old-fashioned way.

The six-year-old venture in Spokane, Wash., founded by CEO Mark Russell and backed by Seattle startup veteran Mike McSherry, is in the midst of a funding round that’s offering up to $3.95 million in equity. More than $1.6 million of that equity has already been sold, coming on the heels of a $9.2 million equity-based crowdfunding campaign that made use of the SeedInvest and Crowdcube online platforms.

About 4,000 investors got in on the campaign, which ended last year and morphed into the current investment round, Russell said. “We had investors putting in from $2,000 to … you know, some invested over $100,000,” he told GeekWire. “We’d always built the company to be a starting point for a public company.”

Russell said total investment to date amounts to more than $13 million, including seed funding that came before the crowdfunding. As of last week’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, $2.3 million of the current offering remained to be sold.

For Russell and his team, the true bottom line is to build a solid foundation for the next stage of HyperSciences’ efforts to harness the company’s ram accelerator technology, which came out of a collaboration with the University of Washington.

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XPRIZE offers $5M for job training innovations

The nonprofit organization known as XPRIZE has been in charge of tech competitions focusing on far-out frontiers such as space travel and computerized avatars, but its latest contest hits closer to home: XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling is offering $5 million in prizes for innovations that could revolutionize job training for under-resourced communities.

The 30-month competition, sponsored by a nonprofit venture philanthropy organization called New Profit, kicks off today — just as the national emergency declared due to the coronavirus outbreak is passing the 100-day mark.

Get the full story on GeekWire.