A Taiwanese start-up is shining a new light into the dark quagmire of anemic drone flight time by harnessing sunlight.
SolarDrone, a research project of National Taiwan University, has developed a solar-powered quadcopter the start-up claims will extend flight time from the usual limitation of around 30 minutes to several hours using photovoltaic cells
“We have combined the domain knowledge in the areas of photovoltaics, control and communications to significantly extend the flight time of drones,” SolarDrone founder Ching Fu Lin said. “With this achievement, it opens up the unlimited possibilities of what drones can do in the future.”
The project is working to overcome two technological barriers. First, a drone’s four props must be open to maintain flight which limits the surface area for ray-harvesting solar panels. And, photovoltaic cells still supply only limited power leading to the need for a huge surface area. More surface means more weight (which defeats the purpose).
However, Ching says his team is overcoming these challenges by re-designing the rotor configuration and solar-panel placement to result in (according to the project website):
- Hours of continuous flight
- Excellent safety – No gasoline/battery, no explosions
- Foldable frame and solar module – Easy for transportation and convenience
- Gimbal stabilized – 4K/HD videos, 16M photos
- Vertical take-off and landing – No need for runways
SolarDrone will be given a place in the tech-world sun — showcasing at CES2018 Eureka Startup Marketplace today through Jan. 12.
From newer startups to establish tech titans, solar drones have risen to prominence across the commercial sector as the quest for longer flights glides forward.
“AeroVironment pioneered the concept of high-altitude solar-powered UAS in the 1980s, and developed and demonstrated multiple systems for NASA’s Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology, or ERAST program, in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” a company statement notes.
In July, Facebook successfully tested its Aquila solar drone in Yuma, Ariz. as part of a project to bring Internet service to remote parts of the globe via UAV. The drone got scuffed a bit in a hard landing but exceeded planned flight time of 30 minutes by more than an hour.
However, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has decided to sunset its own Titan solar-powered drone program which was being developed to bring Internet access all over the planet. Instead, the company will focus on balloons to bring bits and bytes to remote areas.