THE INSTITUTE In 2013 Ph.D. candidate Kim L. Sorensen and his advisor, IEEE Senior Member Tor Arne Johansen, talked with U.S. Coast Guard representatives about a relatively new challenge for the military: the buildup of ice on drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles. UAVs weren’t outfitted with protection to eliminate ice buildup.
Sorensen, tasked with finding a solution, determined that using electrothermal technology and algorithms to autonomously detect and remove ice from UAVs while in flight was the best approach. That became the focus of his Ph.D. project.
At the time, he was pursuing a doctorate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Center for Autonomous Marine Operations and Systems, in Trondheim.
From that meeting, Sorensen says, interest in his work picked up. In 2014 he went to NASA’s Ames Research Center as a visiting researcher to continue his work. Sorensen built the first prototype of his system there with the help of the center’s scientists. The prototype was tested in 2015 onboard a UAV that flew out of the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, a U.S. Air Force facility in Anchorage.
Since then, Sorensen says, the technology has been tested regularly in wind tunnels and onboard UAV flights.
In 2017 Johansen, Sorensen, Sorensen’s Ph.D. classmate Kasper T. Borup and the university’s technology transfer office founded UBIQ Aerospace in Trondheim to commercialize the technology, which is now called D•ICE.
Borup specialized in automation and robotics at the university, and his research interests include nonlinear control systems and their applications to UAVs.
Sorensen is the startup’s CEO, Borup is its CTO, and Johansen is a technical advisor and a member of UBIQ’s board of directors.
The company delivered its electrothermal panel for wings to its first customer last month.
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