Interview: Startup looking to harness wireless power for drones

Dr Jaco du Preez, Founder and CEO of WiPo Wireless Power.
Dr Jaco du Preez, Founder and CEO of WiPo Wireless Power.
Dr Jaco du Preez, Founder and CEO of WiPo Wireless Power.

IT News Africa sat down with the CEO and Founder of innovative startup WiPo Wireless Power, Dr Jaco du Preez, recently in an interview to discuss his company’s goals and objectives.

Jaco, a man with degrees in Computer Systems Engineering, ICT and Informatics, has close to two decades of experience in ICT, management consulting and engineering. His experience and expertise lie in the implementation of ICT and engineering systems to realise company objectives that benefit the bottom line. As a keen tinkerer, maker and hacker he has developed hardware-based systems from power systems to neurological stimulators.

WiPo Wireless Power (Pty) Ltd is a young startup that provides wireless power solutions to the power utility and consumer electronics markets. These wireless power solutions cuts the final cord making mobile devices truly mobile. WiPo Wireless Power provides and installs safe, convenient and reliable wireless power chargers to business hubs, conference centers, airports, restaurants and coffee shops; charging cell phones, laptops and other mobile devices in addition to providing a wireless power system for drones used to perform power line inspections, which is the niche focus of the company.

Jaco spoke to IT News Africa about why he started the company, the uses of his product and the experience provided by being a finalist in a major startup competition.

1) What was the inspiration behind WiPo Wireless Power?

Back in 2012, the tech startup scene was exploding. At the time I was working on a project at Eskom and I thought okay I have to do something. I wanted to create something, unlike all the other tech startups in South Africa which create mobile apps I wanted to create something tangible, something that you could scale and is not one in a hundred million, like apps. At that time South Africa was going through a lot of problems with electricity, a lot of blackouts and load-shedding in 2015. I realised that a lot of it was not down to capacity but rather due to a lack of maintenance that was done poorly. One of the biggest problems is that maintenance is done on a reactive basis rather than a preventive basis.

I noticed that drones were starting to make headlines around the world. So the problem with drones is that they can not fly ver long. So we looked at how we could use drones but as a preventative way and making it more of a smarter device allowing for constant inspection by the drone. So at that time, MIT came out with the concept of wireless power. So we looked at bringing all these aspects together and that’s how WiPo Wireless Power started in February this year.

2) Does WiPo Wireless Power focus solely on drones or are there other uses?

Our specific product is for wireless power for drones but we are also looking at implementing commercial wireless chargers for cell phones, tablets and laptops in commercial settings such as in restaurants, boardrooms, conference centres and so on.

3) How could your solution help make power more stable on the African continent?

Drones are wonderful because you could use them to get to remote areas very quickly, efficiently and at a low cost. Traditionally what they are doing for inspections is to use helicopters which is extremely expensive. So because it’s so expensive, inspections are only done on a corrective basis. With wirelessly powered drones, which fly continuously and autonomously the drones can contantly gather data allowing you to change your maintenance philosophy from corrective to a predictive one, allowing power utilities to pick up problems before they become problems. This could save them hundred of millions if not billions in maintenance costs.

4) In South Africa, cable theft is an ongoing issue. Can your drone solution help with this? 

If you use the drones for inspections and do so autonomously and continuously you could pick up anomalies quicker which could help you pinpoint danger zones and pick up non-technical losses before they happen.

5) Where do you operate?

We have started in South Africa, but there is an undeniable global appeal for drones to be used for inspections. The market in South Africa is only 1% of the global market, so we will have to focus outside of South Africa. Because our base is in South Africa we will start here and then expand to the US, Europe and Asia.

The African market is 2% of the global market. So it will be a natural progression to move to the Sub-Saharan African countries. However the infrastructure there is very limited so I suppose because of that, the applications for drone it would be easy to implement because of the minimal costs.

6) What are your plans for the future of WiPo Wireless Power?

We are looking to produce a pilot project to showcase the technology, from then on what we want to do is design and build a commercial and production-ready module that allows us to take it to the market. So in the next six months, we see ourselves finalising the project, getting the product ready and then taking it to the rest of the world.

7) How would you describe your experience competing in the Seedstars South Africa Finals Startup competition?

I think it opens your eyes in terms of the landscape of the startup market in South Africa. When you compare it to the big startup markets around the world such as in Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv, South Africa is still immature but we are growing. More venture capital and investment funds are coming in, so I think it adds to the exposure, there is a lot more interest. Competitions like this allow us to get exposure and insight into the market.



By Dean Workman