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Drones – a background

Drones is hot technology as well as a political and social topic. But we have a lot to work out yet. Other form of transportation have been legislated for a long time and radio remote controlled planes and helicopters too. But Drones opens up a whole new set of issues not yet covered. The area is so new we don’t even have definitive definitions of what they are or what to call them. Aerial version are often referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs.  Ground based versions are often called Robots.

The key difference we have now is that a Drone is capable of autonomous flight well beyond the range of local radio remote control and as GPS path tracking and batteries get better plus stability and flight dynamics control improves, Drones can be used of amazing things.

Here is a video showing one of the establishes uses for an Aerial Drone, videoing some spectacular location or event.

See The Insider’s Guide to Drone Videography for the full picture.

We have also all heard of them being used for remote assassinations. And also for search and rescue as well as spying on the neighbours and even pizza delivery is being considered.

Some already established uses of Drones are:

  • Remote surveillance
  • Exploration of the moon and other planets
  • Exploration of asteroids
  • Remotely controlled  weapons
  • Autonomous weapons
  • Video and Audio surveillance
  • Real Estate Videos
  • Inspection of pretty much anything
  • Remote Delivery
  • Motion Picture film sequences
  • just having fun

The list can go on. But for the rest of this post I’m going to focus on flying drones as this is the area creating the most controversy. Mostly because the legislation and social norms are falling well being what technology can do.

Drones – Some Recent News

This is more a collection of articles worth checking out that a huge exposition. Over time I’ll more specific posts. But these recent articles in IEEE Spectrum all got my attention.

Here is the Flyability Gimball Drone which has a unique feature, the cage protecting the propellers can rotate allowing it to run along walls, or explore ice caves.

More on this at Spectacular Video Shows Flyability’s Gimball Drone Exploring Ice Caves.

Here’s how to win $1 Million in a search and rescue competition for Drones. Note, the sound is pretty loud on this clip so maybe turn down a little before hitting play.

See This Invincible Flying Robot Just Won a $1 Million Drone Competition for more the full video of its award winning exploration of a simulated disaster site.

And Lily, another famous Drone Startup, is shipping flying cameras that seem to have taken the pet video market by storm.

Drones deliver

Drones can be useful for remote delivery of goods where freight infrastructure doesn’t yet exist, such as Africa. Check out The Economics of Drone Delivery.

Protection from Drones

This has several implications. The major ones are privacy and safety. Drones can be used as weapons. And Drones can be used to spy on everything from neighbours to foreign military installations and governments.

So how do we protect ourselves?

The Dutch are training eagles to take Drones out of the air. Check this out.

The commentary is in Dutch but the video speaks for itself. The full article is at Dutch Police Training Eagles to Take Down Drones.

So that is a glimpse at this fairly broad topic.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

 

Supercapacitors

Supercapacitors are based on regular capacitors with very high energy storage and which can transfer that energy very rapidly. This means you can get rapid energy delivery and also rapid charging. This makes them the ideal complement to batteries which can store much larger amounts of energy but which cannot be charged as rapidly and may also not be able to deliver the energy rapidly enough.

This is why Supercapacitors and batteries are being combined to Make Batteries Better.

But what if they could eventually replace batteries?

Supercapacitors versus Batteries

Supercapacitors versus Batteries

Better Supercapacitors

One thing holding back Supercapacitors from replacing batteries is their total storage capacity. At present, the best supercapacitors can still be a factor of 10 smaller in energy storage.

Recent breakthroughs have shown that Carbon Nano-Structures can significantly improve the storage density and total capacity of Supercapacitors.

Nitrogen Doped Supercapacitor Electrode

Nitrogen Doped Supercapacitor Electrode

Building on this, the most recent breakthrough adds Nitrogen to the mix and shows that Nitrogen can Triple Supercapacitor Energy Density. This gets us to within a factor of 3 of battery storage capacity and opens up the possibility that Supercapacitors could replace batteries completely in some applications.  Especially if you want either very rapid charge or lots of charge cycles. Batteries cannot compete with Supercapacitors in either of these areas.

Capacitors still have one characteristic that makes them less desirable as energy sources that batteries.

Battery Discharge Curve

Battery Discharge Curve

Batteries maintain their voltage in a narrow range for most of the energy delivery they provide. The slope varies with capacitor type as is shown above for a comparison of Alkaline and Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries. Whereas a capacitor is a straight line with the voltage falling in proportion to the amount of energy extracted. And the reverse for charging the capacitor.

Supercapacitor Applications

Some obvious application arise for the next generation of Supercapacitors:

  • augmenting batteries even further than they do now – especially in high demand applications like automotive
  • anything that needs very rapid recharging
  • anything that needs a large number of recharge cycles (a key weakness of Lithium based batteries)
  • anything that needs extended life (10 year life requires specialised battery types even now)
  • removing the recycling  problems for batteries

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Wireless Power

Wireless Power is one of the big topics for future electronics power. Cota is one of the players but there are plenty more wanting to be part of this emerging technology area.

The main issue is not just charging devices in cradles, but charging them wherever they are. Even moving. So how does that work?

Wireless Power in 2016

Finally we have details on this crucial question. At the USA CES 2016 show we have input from multiple companies. One writer concluded that Wireless Power is the hot topic for CES 2016.

Ossia Cota Wireless Power

Ossia Cota Wireless Power

Ossia‘s Cota technology is still a leading contender and has several reasons for this. The key point is that devices wanting power broadcast their intent and the transmitter uses multiple antennas to record the incoming request and then beam form a power send based on the request back to the requesting device. The use of multiple antennas means the power density is kept to an acceptably low level until the power converges on the requesting antenna.

If the request rate is 100Hz then you have to e moving pretty fast to not get power from a system like this.

The drawback, is a 12.5% power transfer efficiency at best. Even so, for low power devices or Internet of Things (IoT) devices this means you might be able to operate on rechargeable batteries without any wires or other charging schemes.

The other 2 major contenders are uBeam and Energous and it is still to be seen which technology will ultimately prove the most adaptable.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Internet of Things 2016

This is the year that the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to become the single biggest category for connected consumer electronics products. This was  covered in more detail in our post on The Internet of Things drives economic growth. But what about other sectors like Infrastructure? In the Pace Zenith Awards 2015 we were finalists with 5 of our projects and these were all Industrial or Infrastructure IoT Projects.

A new infographic shows some surprising details in this area.

The Internet of Things in 6 Visuals

The Internet of Things in 6 Visuals

The six areas looked at in details are:

  • IoT market overview
  • Companies per IoT category
  • Funding by IoT category
  • Venture Funding by IoT category
  • Global IoT breakdown
  • Age of IoT companies

Out thanks go to Appcessories for providing this insightful breakdown.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

2016 Australian Technical Events

My thanks go to Paul Daniels of Circuit Challenges and LC Circuits for preparing this list.

International Conference on Computer Modeling and Simulation
18-19 Jan 2016
Brisbane

LINUX Conference
1-5 Feb 2016
Geelong

Interactive Entertainment Conference
2-5 Feb 2016
Canberra

International Conference on Emerging Trends in Engineering and Technology
4-5 Feb 2016
Melbourne

International Conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology
7-11 Feb 2016
Canberra

Engineering and Technology Advances Conference
9 Feb 2016
Melbourne

Electricity Storage Future Forum
23-25 Feb 2016
Sydney

Chief Digital Officer Summit
24 Feb 2016
Sydney

International Conference on Communication and Electronics Information
3-4 Mar 2016
Melbourne

International Conference on Information Technology
3-4 Mar 2016
Melbourne

Electronic Visualisation and the Arts Conference
5-6 Mar 2016
Canberra

International Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communications
14-18 Mar 2016
Sydney

Annual Remote Area Power Supply Conference
22-23 Mar 2016
Melbourne

CONNECT EXPO 2016
19-20 Apr 2016
Melbourne

CeBIT
2-4 May 2016
Sydney

National Manufacturing Week
11-13 May 2016
Sydney

ARBS Exhibition
17-19 May 2016
Melbourne

Comms Connect 2016
22-23 Jun 2016
Sydney

EduTECH 2016
30-31 May
Brisbane

Electric Power & Lighting Exhibition
28-29 Jun 2016
Melbourne

International Conference on Information Technology and Applications
1-4 Jul 2016
Sydney

Energy Future Conference and Exhibition
4-6 Jul 2016
Sydney

Security Conference and Exhibition
20-22 July 2016
Melbourne

Integrate 2016
23-25 Aug 2016
Sydney

Australasian Universities Power Engineering Conference
25-28 Sep 2016
Brisbane

23rd World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems
10-14 Oct 2016
Melbourne

Innovative Smart Grid Technologies Asia
28 Nov – 01 Dec 2016
Melbourne

International Conference on Electrical Engineering and Technology
5-6 Dec 2016
Sydney

International Conference on Electrical, Computer, Electronics and Communication Engineering
5-6 Dec 2016
Sydney

If you are looking for a list of Australian Holidays then you can find those at Australian Public Holidays, School Holidays & Other Important Days – 2016. My thanks got to  Dr Marc Dussault, the Exponential Growth Strategist for maintaining this list.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Requirements Capture versus Product Specification

In our post on Requirements Capture I looked at how we can go about understanding what a product has to do, who it has to do it for, and how to assess that. The output of this process is often referred to as a Product Specification or more specifically a Product Technical Specification.

One way to think if this is that Requirements Capture is a pull process, where as Product Specification is often a push process.

I was amused to read Jama Software’s blog on this topic where they show a number of ways to go about writing the Product Specification. My favourite was their description of letting the development team write the specification.

Developers Write the Specifcation

Developers Write the Specification

We see a lot of this with web development where the web developers want to try a particular tool or technique so they use it for your project whether that is good for you or not. Below is a summary  of the other options and some common pitfalls.

Customer Supplied Specifications

If the customer is writing from a marketing perspective or a specific opportunity then you can end up with a very useful Product Specification. But if it purely a sales driven process then you often end up with the following combination:

  • superset of the features of all other products on the market
  • at a price 10% below the cheapest product on the market

This generally leads to a project doomed to fail or at the very least puts the product in a price war with a race to the bottom of the market. At the very least, it can put a straight jacket on the product and significantly reduce the likelihood of commercial success.

A marketing driven process will determine where in the market a product can be and at what price, for who and a clear strategy for competing with the other offerings.

Ask the customer

As Steve Jobs famously said, “don’t ask them, they don’t know”.  This isn’t always true, but the client often doesn’t know what is possible and part of the role of Product Developers is to give good guidance on Technology Selection to give the product an edge in the market.

Otherwise, you just deliver what they asked for without caring about their success. I often think this is one thing we offer. We care about the client’s success.

Analyse across all constraints

This is the process we try and use.  And it is well captured in this image from Jama Software.

Product Specification

Product Specification

To be successful, a product should:

  • be possible and affordable with available technology you can actually buy or deploy
  • solve a well defined problem in an acceptable manner
  • fit within the constraints of either the manufacturing capability, logistics capability or market channels available

The last point is often overlooked. I was recently asked why we couldn’t design a product that cost $20 to make, have the range of a mobile phone, be manufactured in quantities of 100 of on demand, a development budget of under $20,000 and be able to be deployed with no infrastructure costs. This is an example of a wish list that can’t be realised as it is currently expressed. However, when we looked at it from a different perspective, we were able to come up with a solution. The questions we asked were:

  • why do they want it?
  • who do they wanted it for?
  • what problem is it meant to solve?
  • what is solving that problem worth to the end user / buyer?
  • what is the manufactured volume versus unit price trade-off?
  • what can it really cost to develop and manufacture and still be profitable?

And suddenly the impossible can become possible. In this case they knew their market well. It was just an example of the customer starting with a specification rather than using the resources around them to get to a specification that could lead to commercial success.

And ultimately, that is where a Product Specification is meant to lead to: commercial success.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Batteries Today

There are 4 separate drivers for current battery technology:

  • Cost
  • Size and Weight
  • Capacity
  • Recharge rates and cycles

An example of an emerging industry for batteries is electric vehicles. These require high recharge rates, high capacity, high recharge cycles and acceptable weight, size and cost. So the current front runner in commercial batteries, the Lithium Ion battery, has some challenges meeting these requirements. But it is also the best we have right now.

Adding Super Capacitors

One approach to improving battery performance in peak demand situations is to add a Super Capacitor in parallel with a conventional lead acid battery. The Super Capacitor smooths the energy demand by delivering the high current needed for peak demand and the lead acid battery provides the bulk energy storage.

CSIRO UltraBattery Inventor - Dr Lan Lam

CSIRO UltraBattery Inventor – Dr Lan Lam

The CSIRO developed UltraBattery is a good example of Australian Technology Innovation in next generation batteries. It is one example of their work in Energy Storage. And also good example of their partnerships with industry to bring next generation technologies to commercial reality.

New Battery Technologies

The front runner for the next generation of battery technologies is the Lithium Air Battery. This promises double the energy density per unit volume of Lithium Ion Batteries but at 20% of the weight. So ideal for Electric Vehicles where weight is one of the critical elements.

Lithium Air Battery Chemistry

Lithium Air Battery Chemistry

The reason this is such a promising technology is because it has:

  • high recharge efficiency (90%+)
  • high recharge cycles (>2000 versus 300 for some Lithium Ion batteries)
  • high energy density
  • low weight

So what is the catch?

Researchers believe commercial versions of this battery technology are only 10 years away. That isn’t that long for a new battery technology. The hurdles they still need to face are primarily in protecting the pollution from corroding the metal electrode and preventing dendrite growth which is an existing problem with Lithium Ion Batteries. The electrode wants pure oxygen and is corroded by moisture, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. So some challenges remain.

Using Existing Batteries Better

The other approach is the one we usually take. Use Existing Batteries Better.  This involves better power management, better battery management and rethinking the whole solution to a problem. We showed an example in a recent Remote Telemetry Case Study we did in the Internet of Things space where we took an installation that would have required a 200W solar panel and instead deployed a system that runs from 4xAA batteries for 2 years. The next step is to add an energy harvesting component with a suitable rechargeable technology to take the battery maintenance interval from 2 years to 5 years. Even with the best and most durable rechargeable battery technology around today for regular commercial applications, a 5 year maintenance interval is still needed.

So multiple approaches. I’m looking forward to the next set of breakthroughs in this area. Including marrying the CSIRO Super Capacitors with a Lithium Air Battery.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Coolest Tech Companies in Australia

And Smart Company have revealed the Top 10 Coolest Tech Companies in Australia for 2015. At the top of the list is Canva.

canva at lunch

canva at lunch

And the rest of the list is also mostly digital companies. Quite a difference to the next list which is for making physical stuff. That thing called “Manufacturing“. Here is the full list:

  • Canva
  • Vinomofo
  • Envato
  • Buzinga
  • Vocus Communications
  • AdRoll
  • Adobe
  • 99Designs
  • Integral Ad Science
  • Datalicious

Top 100 Australian Manufacturers for 2015

Manufacturers Monthly have revealed the Top 100 Australian Manufacturers for 2015.

Top 100 Australian Manufacturers

Top 100 Australian Manufacturers

At the top of the list, which is available for download, is Caltex and BP with Fonterra and Amcor following up in positions 3 and 4. Toyota are in position 7. And yes I am still wondering why we are getting rid of such a huge percentage of our local manufacturing capacity without good cause.

I also grabbed a copy of the PDF of the Top 100 Australian Manufacturers which you can access from the link.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

 

Jet Packs

The history of the Jet Pack goes back to the 1920s and there have been working versions since the 1960s. But there have always been a combination of severe technical restrictions and safety concerns. The 1920s ideal of us all commuting via Jet Packs is not going to happen any time soon. And that is before we consider fuel and carbon emissions.

Martin Jet Pack in New Zealand show us what the design process leads to when we focus on safety as the priority.

Martin Jet Pack

Martin Jet Pack

Jet Pack versus Flying

I was excited to see a very different take on this. It was coming from making the flying experience as natural as possible. And it definitely isn’t for the feint-hearted. It was brought to my attention by Dr Marc Dussault, the Exponential Growth Strategist on his Personal Coaching and Mentoring blog.

So I immediately got to thinking about the design elements here and just what it takes to do this. I also had some concerns about take off and landing. But the real thrill here is the sense of really flying, not just having something support your weight while you hover. Yves Rossi and Vince Reffet are the pilots and provide a better backdrop to the flying in the video below.

What the original video didn’t explain is that the Jet Pack has a top speed well below an A380 and so you can only shadow the A380 when in approach mode. Certainly 10,000m up at full cruise velocity presents other challenges such as temperature, pressure, oxygen and fuel range. At least now we know how they take off. Falling out of a helicopter!

This video covers the design element and how they innovated and iterated the wing design until it was able to be controlled completely by the human body with the only control being a throttle that is rotated by the thumb. This is an excellent example of how the design is refined over time to be as natural to use as possible (at least if you are used to being a pilot).

So how do you land. They show a parachute being rolled up so my intuition is that you can’t safely land while the jets are running so you use the parachute after the fuel runs out. Which is around 10 minutes. Long enough to have a seriously good time but not practical for commuting.

And finally, a race which includes landing by parachute. This is the typical over hyped Top Gear challenge but it really shows the whole process.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

5G Mobile Technology

5G is the latest in the mobile communications and follows on from 4G which is what is powering most high performance mobile commuting devices in advanced economies today. However the exact technical standards and technologies to implement 5G are still being formulated. At its heart lies the requirements for increased mobile data, the explosion of widely distributed and connected devices known as the Internet of Things, a huge increase in the number of simultaneous connections needing to be operating together and the need to reduce both the cost of devices and the energy demand to sustain the data transfer rates.

Another way of putting this, is that we are in the Requirements Capture and Technology Assessment phase of this global project. In 5 years time we will be in the roll out phase.

From 1G to 5G

The following infographic from the LTE World Series Conference Blog helps to explain the changes as we moved from 1G analog communications in the early 1990s to the current 4G LTE technology and onward to 5G next decade.

5G Mobile Communications Infographic

5G Mobile Communications Infographic

IEEE Spectrum are also watching with interest as Experts Plot A Path to 5G.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

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