Wibotic launches software to simplify complexity that comes with keeping large fleets charged
Seattle-based Wibotic last week launched a software package to help customers manage the increasingly complex array of tasks necessary to keep vehicles in growing unmanned fleets charged and ready to perform.
The software, called Commander, offers constant, at-a-glance awareness of all vehicles through a user-friendly interface, said CEO and co-founder Ben Waters. Users will be able to assess quickly how soon vehicles need to be charged, as well as to gather data on things like power usage and battery performance over time – to inform future scheduling and purchasing decisions.
“It might be used for a single vehicle on a single site, or a single vehicle on hundreds of sites, or it could be used for hundreds of vehicles on one site,” Waters said.
The need for a more robust power-management control center, Waters emphasized, is growing as fleets grow.
“This year marks an inflection point for robot adoption,” he said. “Organizations that have evaluated small numbers of robots in the past are now realizing ROI, and are pivoting to scale up.”
Matt Carlson, WiBotic’s vice president for business development, noted that ground fleets of mobile robots are growing faster than aerial fleets, largely because of regulatory hurdles that remain with flight beyond the line of sight and other issues.
But whether a company is deploying by air, ground, or sea, larger fleets add complexity to power management. Commander aims to keep that complexity under control with features that Wibotic says will enable customers to …
- Deploy a common charging infrastructure for all robots in a fleet, regardless of battery chemistry, voltage, or charge speed requirements.
- Auto-discover all transmitters and robots for immediate visibility on the interface, so there is no time-consuming manual setup.
- Aggregate, detailed information on every charge cycle for every robot, allowing battery performance analysis to better predict failures and avoid downtime.
- Adjust charge settings for groups of robots and push those updates to the fleet automatically.
- Benchmark battery performance across different chemistries and vendors to help customers make more informed decisions over time.
- Easily update firmware for all WiBotic equipment simultaneously with a single keystroke.
Work on Commander began in earnest in April 2020. “Our team was all working from home because of COVID, and it made a lot more sense to think through software solutions than it did, uh, continuing to build hardware outside of the lab."
Development included compiling lists of current and potential pain points that a software package could address, as well as enlisting help from a customer to test the new product in its beta stage. That customer, New Hampshire-based WayPoint Robitics, gave Commander a rave review.
“As we deploy larger fleets of robots, we prioritize battery charging as a point of optimization,” said WayPoint CEO Jason Walker. “Robot availability and battery lifespan can be maximized if we know when, where, and how fast to charge; and Commander gives us that visibility and control.”
Wibotic leaders emphasized that development of Commander will continue for years, given that it’s “an early product in an early market.” Waters expressed particular excitement in the area of data collection and analysis.
“As of today, our focus has been obviously on gathering data through WiBotic hardware; we sell the transmitters and then what we call on-board chargers, which are the units that go on each robot or drone,” he said. “But there is also other equipment, like batteries themselves, that have intelligence on them. So over time, we hope to start reaching out and gathering that information from those sources.”
Development will also involve being responsive to customers, the issues they encounter, and the ideas they provide for improvement, Waters said.
“The data is really the key, I think, and it’s going to be really interesting – even to us – over time to see how our customers use that data. I’m sure they’ll find things that we’ve never even thought of.”