Saturday, March 17, 2018

Aerones makes really big drones for cleaning turbines and saving lives

Enthusiasts will talk your ear off about the potential for drones to take over many of our dirtiest, dullest and most dangerous tasks. But most of the jobs we’ve actually seen drones perform are focused on the camera — from wildlife surveying to monitoring cracks on power plant smokestack.

Aerones is working on something much larger. The Y Combinator-backed startup is building giant drones with 28 motors and 16 batteries, capable of lifting up to 400 pounds. That kind of payload means the drones can actually perform a broad range of potential tasks to address the aforementioned three Ds.

The company launched two and a half years ago, led by a trio of founders that had already collaborated on a number of projects, including a GPS fleet management system and an electric race car. The team is still lean, with seven employees, most of whom are engineers. The company was bootstrapped with its founders money, but has since raised around half a million euros, all told. Founded in Latvia, Aerones has relocated to Mountain View in search of seed money, after signing on with Y Combinator.

And team already has quite a bit to show for its work, with several videos demonstrating Aerones’ robust system. The drone looks like four quadcopter tethered together — using this configuration, the craft can put out fires, perform search and rescue missions and clean the sides of tall buildings. After over a year of showing off the product’s sheer brute strength in a series of videos, the drones are ready to be put to real world use. 

“Over the last two months, we’ve been very actively talking to wind turbine owners,” CEO Janis Putrams told TechCrunch on a call this week. “We have lots of interest and letters of intent in Texas, Spain, Turkey, South America for wind turbine cleaning. And in places like Canada, the Nordic and Europe for de-icing. If the weather is close to freezing, ice builds up, and they have to stop the turbine.”

For now, the company is testing the system on private property and in countries where regulatory issues don’t prohibit flight. The company plans to start monetizing their drones as part of a cleaning service, rather than selling the product outright to clients. Among other things, the deal allows Aerones to continue to develop the drone hardware and software to allow for a more robust and longer lasting system.

At present, the drones are operating with a tether that keeps them from drifting, while delivering power to the 28 on-board motors. Unplugged, the drones can carry a payload for around 12 minutes. That could be sufficient for a search and rescue mission, but the battery technology will have to improve for the system to perform other extended tasks without being connected directly to a power source.

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