Esker Granted Federal Funds

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:37 pm

Milwaukee-based Esker Technologies recently received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 program grant from the U.S. Department of Defense working with the U.S. Air Force.  Esker received about $100,000 in funds to conduct a feasibility study to determine if its flagship product, ZeroWire, will help the U.S. Air Force control the cost, weight and ease of service for its satellites, said Brad Rake, managing partner and president of Esker.

The ZeroWire application uses a communication chip, a software program and circuitry to transmit data through a power line.

“(The product) is called ZeroWire because we don’t require any additional or specialized wiring,” Rake said. “ZeroWire uses the existing power lines.”

The method was invented by Esker affiliate Keith Lamon in 2002 and designed for direct current (DC) power systems. ZeroWire currently has a patent pending, Rake said. DC power systems are used in vehicles including construction equipment, specialty and regular trucks, automobiles, trains, buses, and boats, Rake said.

Esker partnered with the UW-Madison Space, Science and Engineering Center (UW SSEC) to test the feasibility of using ZeroWire for satellites in space.

In a conventional DC power system, there is a power control area, often called a power bus, Rake said. Each wire that is connected to the power bus connects to a certain component within the system and serves a specific function.

In a car, for example, a wire will connect from the power bus to a light switch or an automatic seat. Functions that entail moving a seat backward or forward require multiple wires.

If the seat is not moving backward or a light is not turning on, a point to point diagnosis of the entire power bus and its wires is required to figure out the source of the problem, Rake said.

When components of satellites are not functioning, point to point diagnosis can take upwards of four months because of the large amount of wires required for the satellite to function, Rake said.

ZeroWire can solve the issues of the bundles of wires involved in satellites and the DC powered vehicles Esker works with as well as speeding up the diagnostic process.  

The ZeroWire technology is similar to radiated transmission except it is a conducted transmission and carried out through a power wire, Rake said.

Mobile phones communicate through radiated transmission where signals are continually sent out. Every mobile phone acknowledges the signals and disregards them unless it understands the code. When the phone understands the code, the phone rings and serves its function, Rake said.

“Zero Wire is a digital communication and control system that uses radio frequency for a conducted transmission,” Rake said.

A ZeroWire-enabled DC power system connects modules along a power line instead of bundles of wires coming from one power bus. The modular operation allows each function to be localized.

ZeroWire’s communication chip, software program and circuitry are used to communicate data or control a function from module to module. The signals are broadcast throughout the power system, similar to radiated transmission and mobile phones, and when a module recognizes the code, then it performs the function communicated. The function could include turning a light on or off.

Diagnosis takes minutes instead of months because a signal can be broadcast throughout the power system and the system will know which modules did not receive the signal, Rake said. And because the system is modular, wires are easily switched out without having to take apart a vehicle.

Esker received the Phase 1 grant as a result of a solicitation the U.S. Department of Defense put out to the public last fall. Esker also was awarded a $6,000 Technology Assistance Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce in 2005 to aid in the funds needed to submit the proposal.

Esker will perform the feasibility studies on a monthly project management basis with UW SSEC and plans to have the final report early next year, Rake said.

If the feasibility test is successful, Esker could qualify for a Phase 2 grant which would include a larger amount of money and the ability to build ZeroWire into a satellite system. The next step, Phase 3, would entail a contract with the U.S. Air Force to supply ZeroWire, Rake said.

Esker was formed in 2003 by Rake and his partner, Bob Uhren.

Rake holds four patents in industrial equipment and monitoring equipment, Rake said. Rake also serves as partner of Milwaukee-based Rose Polymer Composites, LLC.

“Esker Technologies was founded to develop proprietary products where every product is new, leading edge and unique,” Rake said.

In addition to ZeroWire, Esker makes portable test kits for companies that make hazardous material suits and assembles joysticks for a supplier to industrial equipment manufacturers.

Because ZeroWire only requires a power line running through a vehicle, the technology can be added to an existing conventional DC power system without having to rework the system. It can also be used as a back up system for a vehicle that cannot afford to be partially functional.

In the future, Esker plans to expand as a company on a project basis by adding a network of freelance and independent engineers, Rake said.

Esker also plans to form strategic partnerships with manufacturers so that items including after market electrical products can be designed with a receiver to be ZeroWire capable, Rake said.

“I also want to work on future grants,” Rake said. “So far it has been a positive experience.”

Esker Technologies, Inc.

Location: 5915 N. 55th St., Milwaukee
Brad Rake and Bob Uhren
Employees: 3
Web site:

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