As drones find more commercial and industrial applications, power is a key consideration in their design and operation. Choosing the right power source can significantly impact a drone’s performance, endurance, and cost. This article provides a guide to power sources for commercial drones, including their advantages and disadvantages, and leading companies that supply battery packs for unmanned aerial vehicles.
Drones have become a popular tool for many industries, including aerial photography, agriculture, surveillance, and delivery. Commercial applications require drones to operate for longer periods, cover greater distances, and carry heavier payloads. Therefore, power source selection is a key aspect to ensure that the drone has enough capacity utilization and longer flight times. UAV batteries can be designed in different types irrespective of these variations, such as rechargeable, non-rechargeable batteries or specific drone applications. With advancements in clean energy, there is potential to revolutionize the industry and develop newer methods of drone-based transportation without harming the environment.
Popular Power Sources for Commercial Drones
The most popular type of power source for commercial drones is battery packs, particularly lithium-polymer batteries, due to their energy efficiency, lightweight, high-performance, and storage capability. Quadcopter drones have become a favorite among consumer drone flyers as they have proven their worth on all kinds of applications including racing, filming and photography. Li-Po drone batteries offer indefinite flight times and are easily available, hence making them an ideal pick for most drone applications. Other types of power sources include hydrogen fuel cells, solar panels, combustible engines, and tethered drones. Hybrid engines and optical power technology are also being developed as a power source for UAVs.
Pros and cons of each power source:
- Battery-powered drones: Energy-efficient, generate less waste, but have short lifespans and require planning for charging.
- Hydrogen fuel cells: Offer longer run times, but require a hydrogen refueling infrastructure.
- Solar panels: Useful for long-endurance missions but are less effective in cloudy conditions
- Combustible engines: Offer long endurance but generate more noise and pollution
- Tethered drones: Can operate for extended periods but require a connection to a power source.
Leading Providers of Battery Packs for UAVs
When it comes to drone batteries, several major players have already established themselves as leading manufacturers in the industry. Most successful battery producers already offer a comprehensive range of products for a wide variety of use cases and UAV types. Here are some of the top providers:
- BaE Systems: A company that designs, manufactures, and supports thermal interfaces, fanless computing, and rugged composite materials that are key to efficient drone battery systems.
- Steatite Batteries: A business that offers custom-designed battery packs that provide safe power management and built-in redundancy. Their application-specific UAV batteries and remote aerial powering devices have been widely approved for their performance.
- EaglePicher: This company is a supplier of lithium-ion batteries for military and industrial UAVs. They have been incorporated into several loitering munitions UAVs that command longer flight times and faster charging times.
- Malloy Aeronautics: A manufacturer that has developed the drone T-650. This concept vehicle is designed to fly between cities, using custom-designed rotary engines that don’t consume fuel and enable the drone to easily and quickly recharge.
Other Potential Power Sources for UAVs
While battery packs are the most commonly used power source for drones, other power sources are also being developed. In particular, hydrogen fuel cells are a potential alternative to batteries, as they offer long flight times without sacrificing range. The initial expense of using hydrogen fuel cells to charge drone batteries is also expected to gradually decrease, making the technology more accessible to the broader public.
Solar panels can also be used as chargers for drone batteries when exposed to sunlight. This means that such panels can be deployed in remote areas that lack grid-connected electricity or where on-site power generation is not feasible. Solar panels offer the advantages of reducing carbon footprint, and sustainable power generation, but they have limitations because they require specific angles of exposure to sunlight and do not work in dark or shaded environments.
In addition to these major power sources, a range of new technologies is currently under development, such as optical power technology. These technologies have the potential to revolutionize the industry and provide drones with additional capabilities.
In conclusion, the choice of power source for UAVs ultimately depends on several specific factors, such as endurance requirements, range, weight, size, and cost. UAV batteries are widely considered the most suitable option, but other power sources like hydrogen fuel cells, solar panels, combustible engines, and tethered drones offer additional capabilities. The industry is continuously evolving, with several new technologies nearing implementation, including hybrid engines and optical power technology.
It is noteworthy that whichever power source is chosen, the battery’s size, weight balance, and battery management system should be the critical factors to consider. Radio datalink systems, positioning systems, and communication systems should also be optimized to ensure maximum performance. Furthermore, UAV marketing and logistics support must be planned accordingly, depending on the selected power source.
Battery safety must also be considered. Battery fires and explosions have been known to cause damage and potential harm to people, as well as damage the environment. Therefore, industry players continue to prioritize manufacturing safer and more reliable commercial drone batteries. The drone industry is expected to grow even faster and conquer new applications in the years to come, and defining the right power source might mean the difference between a successful drone program and a lost-in-limbo drone experiment.