Drones, driverless cars and VR bikes

Published on the 23/08/2017 | Written by Jonathan Cotton

AU tech_drones

Three pieces of emerging Aussie tech have caught our eye in recent times…

Lightweight, solar-powered drones which can fly (almost) indefinitely during daylight hours?

Yes please.

It’s not just Amazon planning on changing the way we think about drones. Praxis Aeronautics has worked out a way to “encapsulate standard solar cells in composite material without losing efficiency”. Put another way, they’ve solved one of the key problems that has been holding back solar-powered aircraft – the weight and cost of accommodating solar cells.

The Adelaide-based Praxis – a father and son team consisting of Don and Cameron Donaldson – has secured $150,000 of the South Australian Government’s early commercialisation fund, to support the company’s efforts to produce a larger prototype to entice the market.

As for commercial applications, it’s hoped the drones will have aerial mapping applications for the mining industry, faster deliveries of medicines to remote communities and even shark spotting in summer.

With petrol-powered drones being expensive and electric drones having limited flying time, Praxis hopes to crack the market using a thin film of solar cells that can be wrapped over the body of the drone. Usually that would be expensive (about $35,000 per square metre) but Praxis says they can do it for just $1000.

“Through the process of taking out a patent, we have discovered that people have tried and they’ve got close,” Cameron Donaldson said. “The issue has been making laminates that are perfectly clear to allow the cells to operate at maximum efficiency.”

“It’s the best application to prove the worth of the process, because it’s a relatively small product to manufacture, and no other product we have come across has had the improvement factor,” he said.

“We have been able to improve the flight duration by six times. Most electric drones can only fly for one hour.”


Pedal to the mental
Griffith University is in the process of developing a virtual reality training simulation bike for both for cyclists and fans based on the 2018 Commonwealth Games track.

The project – which combines a virtual reality headset with software and a special stationary cycle – has just scored $100,000 from the Advance Queensland Sport Science Challenge.

Leigh Ellen Potter, Director of the Innovative Design and Emerging Applications Lab at Griffith University, said the new tech will help coaches and athletes “explore new areas of performance”.

“For cyclists preparing for the Commonwealth Games, it is capable of integrating real and virtual data while providing the sights and sounds of competing at a world-class competition,” she said.

“It creates an immersive, realistic training simulation with real-time feedback to prepare and train elite athletes.”

Minister for Sport Mick de Brenni was equally enthused when he announced the university would be receiving the $100,000, saying that such technology could one day be as common-place as fitness trackers were now.

“It has some exciting implications for the future of sport, since it enhances the competitiveness of our elite athletes who measure improvements in their performance in milliseconds and for whom the tiniest of margins can mean the difference between winning and losing,” he said.

Unfasten your seatbelt
As much we love to make that ‘pfft’ sound when we’re talking about the government, the recent passing of legislation to trial automated cars in NSW makes us slightly light in the head.

Roads, Maritime and Freight Minister Melinda Pavey said the legislation would establish a legislative framework to allow the safe testing of connected and highly automated vehicle technology in NSW.

“These new laws will enable industry, researchers and government to trial automated vehicle technologies on our roads, not only in the city but in regional areas as well,” Pavey said.

“The Government is positioning NSW as a leader in innovation, because we’re able to test and trial emerging technologies in our road environment while maintaining public safety.”

The legislation will allow for the approval of trials (including type of vehicles, roads used and trial time period) and will require trial applicants to have the appropriate insurance provisions and safety management plans in place.

Plus, in another first for NSW, the government last week announced that it has joined forces with HMI Technologies, NRMA, Telstra and IAG to trial a driverless shuttle bus at Sydney Olympic Park.

Onya, NSW. Now just don’t mess it up.

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