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Iris Lab: a fully loaded entrepreneurial project

Published on

18 Mar 2024

Bastien Fabre applied for and was awarded an Entrepreneurship grant from the Foundation in February 2023 for the Heliosphere project, now Iris Lab. The aim of this project is to develop and market a wireless power transmission solution for the continuous supply of autonomous systems. 1 year on, where does Iris Lab stand?


What was your ambition with the project?

The Iris Lab project (ex-HELIOSPHERE) aims to develop and market a wireless power transmission solution for the continuous supply of autonomous systems.

Today, the development of autonomous systems (drones, logistics robots, agricultural robots and, in future, lunar rovers) is considerably hampered by the limits imposed by their batteries. These represent both a cumbersome load limiting system performance and a loss of operability linked to recharging. These two constraints are perfectly illustrated by the example of the drone. Indeed, 30% of a drone’s mass is dedicated solely to the battery, limiting the space left available for payloads, all for just 30 min of autonomy. What’s more, innovation in battery technologies, driven by the development of smartphones and then electric cars, has already reached a development plateau in terms of range/weight ratio. A breakthrough technology is therefore needed to remedy this problem. [Iris Lab] aims to free future autonomous systems from cumbersome energy storage, enabling their operators to dedicate their system’s full capacity to the mission.

Can you tell us more about the project?

Bastien Fabre

Iris Lab aims to enable operators of autonomous vehicles to drastically increase their endurance and mobility thanks to an innovative laser power transmission technology. These new capabilities for autonomous systems open the door to a multitude of applications in numerous sectors such as logistics, space and drones. We were able to confirm this urgent need for continuous power supply on the part of manufacturers, through the various exchanges we had with manufacturers and operators of stand-alone systems.
Light as an energy source is already harnessed by photovoltaic (PV) panels, which convert the sun’s light energy into electrical energy. The same conversion mechanism can be used with an artificial light source. The innovation lies in the ability to judiciously match the light source with the photovoltaic receiver, so as to achieve much higher conversion efficiencies and thus be able to offer compact, lightweight converters that are perfectly suited to the constraints of stand-alone systems.

The solution we are proposing consists of a ground-based laser transmitter pointing at a photovoltaic receiver onboard the stand-alone system. The aim is to supply this system continuously with a light source adapted to atmospheric transparency windows, particularly for long-distance applications. In this dossier, we focus on the most accessible application case, low/medium range terrestrial applications, where the objective is low source and sensor costs. In the spatial context, the issues will be different, particularly in the long-distance sector.

How did the implementation go?

To kick-start the development of our technical solution, we decided to build an initial demonstrator over a 6-month period as part of the PIE (Projets Ingénierie et Entreprise) program. This enabled us to prove the feasibility of our concept. The prototype is a simplified version of the final product, with the aim of transmitting low power to a drone in flight over a limited distance. The aim of this proof of concept is to verify our ability to overcome two of the three technological hurdles involved in our target product: the ability to track a target accurately, and the safety of the environment around the laser. The final challenge, the development of a high-efficiency photovoltaic cell for laser-electric power conversion, will be addressed by our second prototype in 2024.

For this PIE, four students (in addition to the two founders, Bastien and Nicolas) in their final year of engineering studies at ISAE-SUPAERO were involved in developing the prototype: Eliott Renault, Maxime Renard, Alexandre Neyret and Audric Boiteau. We have chosen to organize our team on a horizontal structure so that everyone can be fully involved in the design, with structural technical choices possible on their own initiative.

Despite the ambition and the timeframe of the EIP, we succeeded in imagining, designing, assembling and testing our two sub-systems, demonstrating the feasibility of our technological building blocks, whose performance will continue to improve in future iterations.

The results of the EIP, the exchanges we had with the industry players we met, and the successes of the competitions have fuelled our motivation and our conviction that wireless energy transmission holds the promise of a genuine revolution for the energy distribution sector. It’s even hard to imagine all the potential applications this solution will bring in the future. We are continuing our project today and are in the process of signing a contract with a laboratory. (Institut Photovoltaïque d’Île-de-France) to develop the heart of the concept: a photovoltaic receiver system optimized for laser-electricity power conversion. We are also setting up a partnership with SATT Paris-Saclay, which will finance the associated R&D needs for our second demonstrator. We’re getting ready to set up our company and will soon be starting work on our first fund-raising campaign.

How did you benefit from the Foundation’s grant?

he prototype was decisive in the creation of the startup. This enabled us to carry out a feasibility study for the tracking technology we wanted to develop, and to demonstrate our ability to execute and our reliability to our various partners.

This exercise was a success, because since the end of the project, things have been speeding up:

  • Creation of the start-up: We created the start-up in October 2023: Iris Lab SAS. This legal status now enables us to contract with partners, finance ourselves and begin development of our first product.
  • IPVF-SATT de Paris Saclay partnership: We presented our prototype and project to the IPVF (Institut Photovoltaïque d’Ile de France) and after several discussions with their researchers, they offered to develop the power transmission reception sensor. This research is financed by a €100k grant from SATT Paris Saclay. As a result, Iris Lab will have an exclusive license to use the patent developed by the IPVF, giving us a considerable competitive advantage for the successful development of our product.
  • Initial funding and recruitment: we will be recruiting a CTO by February. We’ve started the process of obtaining a €100k honor loan and are currently talking to incubators. We’ve also been approached by a first-time investor who’s ready to put up a €60K ticket to get us off the ground. Our goal is to raise a Seed of €2M by October 2024 in order to recruit around ten people.

We would like to thank the Foundation, which contributed a large part of the funding for this prototype. Thanks to funding from the Foundation, we were able to set up an ambitious CIP project that mobilized a group of students for 6 months and enabled them to apply their technical skills. Without this aid, which preceded all the others, development would have taken longer and we wouldn’t have finished on time. This prototype and the brand image created by the Foundation’s support help us in our day-to-day work, and raise the profile of the Institute with our current partners.

I want to support projects like Bastien’s