Sibling-led South Australian start-up Praxis Aeronautics will showcase revolutionary new solar technology designed to power drones and light-weight aircraft at Avalon later this month.
The unique technology – proven to vastly increase drone endurance – was developed by company founder Cameron Donaldson and encapsulates standard solar cells inside composite material without losing efficiency of the cells.
It solves one of the key problems that has grappled the solar aircraft and drone industry since the 1970s – the weight and cost of adding solar cells.
Cameron’s sister Katie, who recently moved to Adelaide from Melbourne to join the company as business partner, said the technology enables drones to fly in the sky for up to three times longer than is possible with batteries alone.
“People have been building solar aircraft since the 1970s, but it’s always been quite experimental and problematic incorporating solar into the wings,” Katie said.
“There’s always been the problem of weight versus reward with putting solar cells into an aircraft. If you add solar cells you can produce your own energy and fly for longer, but if you make the aircraft heavier, it needs more power.
“Our process incorporates the cells into the composite structure, so the weight of the cells is offset by the weight that we’re removing from the structure. It makes the weight of the cells no longer prohibitive and therefore works with both Gallium Arsenide cells and also Silicon cells.”
The water-proof technology, which could also be used on boats and unmanned surface vehicles, is a similar process that Cameron used in the shipbuilding industry, prior to establishing Praxis Aeronautics in 2016, to encapsulate timber in the construction of high-end yachts.
The brother-sister duo recently showcased the technology at Oshkosh Airshow in Wisconsin, US, and are now in discussions with several major US companies, including a leading supplier of small UAVs to Defence globally, including Australia.
The start-up partners with other companies in the aviation and drone markets.
“We have the capability to build entire drones, but have made the deliberate decision to partner with other companies and provide solar variant solutions for their existing and future drones,” Katie said.
Praxis will be among 24 South Australian companies showcasing products and services on the Defence SA stand at Avalon Airshow, in Geelong, from 26 February to 3 March.
“It’s important to showcase our technology to the right companies,” she said.
“We find we get a different response from people when they can physically see and touch the product.”