Hydrogen-powered drones can fly six times longer when compared to drones running on normal batteries.
The popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or more commonly known as drones, has been increasing in the last few years. The UAVs can be used commercially in many industries and they can also be used for recreational purposes.
Batteries that power drones play a significant role in determining determine the distance drones can travel.
UK-based power technology company Intelligent Energy has revealed a modified drone, which is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Intelligent Energy suggests that the hydrogen-powered drone can stay airborne for up to two hours, which is six times more than the average drone flying time of 20 minutes.
Battery recharge time keeps drones on the ground, wasting precious time if the drone is used for emergency and rescue operations. Current drone batteries in the market can take between one to two hours for a full recharge. However, the hydrogen fuel cell can be refilled in a matter of minutes and the drone is good to take its flight again.
"Even with advanced batteries their value is limited. For commercial use, they need to offer better flight times and range," says Julian Hughes, Group Business Development director and acting managing director for Intelligent Energy's Consumer Electronics Division. "That will all become possible with the release of our range extender platform."
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has several restrictions on drones, such as flying areas. However, the FAA does not have restrictions on the flying time of drones.
"For consumers, simply swapping batteries is an acceptable solution to limited battery life. But commercial users, who may be doing high-resolution mapping or scanning, which requires low-speed paths back and forth over an area, the ability to stay in the air for an hour or more can turn what might be many missions into one," says Chris Anderson, the CEO of the drone maker 3D Robotics.
The drones made by Intelligent Energy look similar to normal drones but they have a fuel tank on their bellies. The fuel cells are located at the top of the drone.
The company is known in the industry for experimenting with hydrogen fuel cell technology. Intelligent Energy believes that the hydrogen fuel cell-powered drones can play an important role in many fields such as oil and gas, forestry mapping, agriculture and more.
Intelligent Energy says that the company will initially aim at commercial businesses that need aerial imagery from drones. Intelligent Energy may also launch a modified version of hydrogen-powered drones for regular customers in the near term.
The company has made prototypes of the hydrogen drone and is working to get a commercial version by 2017.
Hughes suggests that many drone pilots have complained of shorter flying times. The hydrogen-powered drones will help these people complete assignments and projects quicker than before.