Sydney-based tech startup Aquila has gained the backing of Blackbird Ventures in a $3 million seed round that aims to commercialise the wireless energy transmission technology that eccentric physicist Nikola Tesla dreamed was possible almost 130 years ago.
Aquila, founded by software developer Billy Jeremijenko and mechatronics engineer Nelson Smith, wants to take the technology further in a bid to create the ‘internet of energy’ that the company says is vital if renewable energy solutions can live up to their potential.
The investment by Blackbird, which was supported by Startmate, Icehouse Ventures and Possible Ventures, is the start of what Aquila CEO Jeremijenko describes in a blog posted today as ‘an insane challenge’ that in Australia alone will require the energy grid to scale three times over the next decade to distribute renewables.
“Aquila aims to build and operate a dynamic, light-based energy network that can extend and improve the capabilities of our energy distribution networks,” Jeremijenko says, likening the startup's vision to the ‘leap from dial-up internet to Wi-Fi’.
“We’re taking electricity from power lines and poles along a direct route and extending it through a dynamic, wireless network.”
Aquila’s technology has shown it can power drones in flight with the prototype delivering longer flight times and lower battery weight.
The startup is aiming to further develop its technology to offer faster charging while powering higher electric aircraft and potentially satellites.
Its 'internet of energy' vision comprises a space-based optical relay systems to supply electricity markets globally.
“Our long-term vision is a globe-spanning energy network consisting of thousands of optical relay satellites directing gigawatts of power worldwide, each moving at kilometres a second relative to one another,” Jeremijenko says.
“Our $3 million in seed funding will not get us there. Still, it will allow us to prove it is possible to operate optical energy networks at scale, laying the foundations for future distribution networks.”
Tesla laid the foundation of the technology in the 1890s when he was looking at developing a wireless lighting system. While Tesla said at the time that he succeeded in proving his theory of wireless energy transmission, historians say there is no official evidence of this.
However, Blackbird Ventures partner Niki Scevak says novel solutions such as those proposed by Aquila are essential to explore to ‘accelerate the world's electrification and renewable energy adoption’.
“Aquila offers an enchanting vision that would enable a country like Australia to become a renewable superpower by transporting our abundance of midday sun to service the energy needs of the evening hours of the most populous cities of the world,” Scevak says.
“We are excited to begin this journey with Will, Nelson and their resourceful, mission-driven team."
Aquila says the $3 million seed round will help the team scale the technology that it has already proven at low power levels.
“For now, we’re focusing on creating light-based energy networking products to serve small drone operators; getting the testing hours on the ground to prove we can do it safely and effectively,” Jeremijenko says.
“Supplying power continuously to drones in-flight could unlock infinite possibilities for environmental monitoring, electric mobility and transportation of vital supplies at scale, across enormous distances, and much more.”
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