Maxon Motors Powered Mars Exploration – Now, They’re Powering Drones. Auterion and maxon’s New Partnership

Auterion and maxonAuterion software firm teams up with Swiss motor manufacturer maxon

By DRONELIFE Staff Writer Jim Magill

Auterion, a software company that provides an ecosystem of connected drones, payloads and apps, is teaming up with Switzerland-based drive and motor specialist maxon best known as the creator of the precision systems enabling the autonomous helicopter Ingenuity and rover Perseverance to explore Mars.

The partnership is expected to create one of the most advanced, open-sourced ecosystems of avionics and motor integration in the drone industry. It will combine the use of Auterion’s module Skynode and maxon’s best-in-class BLDC motors, such as the EC 87 flat UAV motor.

In a joint statement, the companies said the goal of the partnership “is to leverage both companies’ know-how to make drone operation, development and fleet management easy for customers at dramatically reduced costs.” The two companies said they would “explore long-term opportunities around propulsion systems and autopilot communication, data sharing and real-time monitoring.”

In an interview, Auterion cofounder Kevin Sartori said he was excited about the opportunities presented with the partnership with maxon.

“Motors and motor controllers are a very important part of a drone system. They’re what keeps the drone in the air.  And Maxon is the world leader in smaller motors for robotic application,” he said.

He added that for many of its U.S.-based customers, it was important that Auterion not partner with a motor manufacturer that was based in China.

“Today, most motors are made in China. Maxon is a Swiss company; its manufacturing is done in Switzerland,” he said.

Marco Sicher, maxon’s business development engineer, said the partnership would give electric motor manufacturer an opportunity to leverage its drone-propulsion system technology with Auterion’s open-source software, which has become the standard for drone autopilot operations.

“We knew that it’s not only done with motors and control electronics, it’s an entire propulsion system, an entire ecosystem,” he said.

Maxon has more than six decades of experience building drive systems, controllers, gear boxes and sensors. Its high-precision electric motors are employed in a number of industries, from aviation to medicine and robotics, and are used in the manufacture of surgical power tools and humanoid robots.

However, what maxon is best known for worldwide is crafting technologies used in NASA’s Mars missions. The company’s history with the Mars missions goes back 20 years, when maxon developed electric motors for the first Mars rovers.

In the latest mission, maxon is playing its biggest role yet. A maxon motor is part of the mechanism responsible for changing the pitch of the propellers of the autonomous helicopter drone Ingenuity, the first vehicle to fly above the surface of another planet. In addition, maxon’s technology supports many of the laboratory activities that are taking place aboard the Mars rover Perseverance.

Sicher said maxon’s technology developed for the Mars missions eventually becomes incorporated into its more earthbound products, such as drone propulsion systems.

“I always compare it with Formula One in the auto industry. It’s the most advanced part of the industry, a niche, but the technology that is developed there a few years later goes into the normal automotive industry,” he said.

For its role in the new partnership Auterion brings its expertise in developing complete drone software stacks. The company’s cofounder Lorenz Meier developed Pixhawk, an open-source autopilot hardware standard, and shaped the PX4 autopilot software, which has become the most used open-source flight control system for autonomous aircraft in the world.

Auterion’s U.S.-made Skynode, which marks a next-generation advancement for the Pixhawk standard, supports all different types of airframes and versatile payloads controlled via an SDK, LTE cloud connectivity and advanced onboard computation and apps.

“What Auterion does is build its product on open standards that everyone can use, and that everyone can contribute to because they’re not owned by anyone,” said Sartori.

“This partnership — in terms of integrating motor and motor control with the autopilot — is done over open standards so that the integration is available to more companies, and that helps scale the availability of components for the end-user,” he said.

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