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Commercial drones are now being used in agriculture, engineering, environmental monitoring, construction, and mapping; retail giants are exploring their use in parcel delivery, and first responders have successfully used them in search and rescue missions. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are literally saving lives.
However, there is a fundamental problem; lithium-polymer batteries aren’t powerful enough to keep most drones aloft for extended periods of time. And larger batteries add significant weight.
Enter the GE-30 Range Extender, a lightweight hybrid gas-electric powertrain, from Pegasus Aeronautics of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. The Range Extender “completely removes batteries from the equation.” states Pegasus Aeronautics’ CEO Matt McRoberts.
Once mounted on a drone, the GE-30 acts as a battery replacement, boosting average airborne time from 15 minutes to over two hours. McRoberts believes it will be decades before lithium-polymer batteries can offer similar performance.
The GE-30 originated as a design project for a group of University of Waterloo engineering students. “That was where the concept of the gas-electric range extender was conceived. We graduated in 2015, and with the encouragement of our professors, decided to commercialize this idea, incorporate as a company and start developing an industrial product,” says McRoberts, who co-founded Pegasus with two engineering colleagues.
The company was assisted by the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, which offers space, coaching, professional management advice, and grants to technology firms. They gave Pegasus a $60,000 grant and invaluable mentoring, particularly on the business front.
“Being a bunch of engineers coming out of school, we didn’t know much about market research. The centre helped us enormously.” says McRoberts.
The centre connected Pegasus with lawyers and accountants to help with patents, incorporation, intellectual property (IP) protection, and bookkeeping. The Accelerator Centre has received funding from the Region of Waterloo, Province of Ontario and Government of Canada.
Pegasus also received advice, workspace and a $35,000 grant from Velocity, a University of Waterloo initiative that describes itself as “the largest free startup incubator in the world.” At present, Pegasus is based in a Velocity facility in Kitchener. The firm is currently engaged in a funding round and looking for its own quarters.
The company has received additional assistance from MaRS, a Toronto innovation hub funded by private and government sources. Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), a business accelerator run by the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, also provided support.
“Velocity is fantastic, they’ve done a huge deal by giving us space. And the Accelerator Centre took us from a few engineers with a project to a company with a product ready for market. The mentorship and resources made available here were game-changing for us.” – Matt McRoberts, CEO, Pegasus Aeronautics
While Pegasus is developing other products, the GE-30 is going to market first, in early 2017. So monitor the skies – because soon that drone you see over a farmer’s field, or providing emergency rescue support, may just be powered by Ontario’s own Pegasus Aeronautics.
December 9, 2016
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All figures are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise noted. Information is accurate at the time of publication.