Bobby Schulz/University of Minnesota

The fine educational folks over at the University of Minnesota have cooked up an interesting new agricultural drone design. Combining the best of vertical lift and horizontal fixed-wing flight, their design takes off like a helicopter, then flies like a plane.

Better yet, the drone sustains longer flight times by way of attached solar panels. We know Facebook’s solar drones have met the ground, we’ll see how long this educational device can go. This is the SUAV:Q

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SUAV:Q, that’s Solar Unmanned Aerial Vehicle: Quad, is not entirely made for you and me, it is a whopping 6+ foot machine designed to carry heavy camera gear over top of farmer’s fields. The fixed-wing flight, like an airplane, offers far greater battery life than a typical quadcopter drone. Before speeding through the air, take-off is handled without the need for a long runway, launching vertically, as most quadcopters do today.

The versatility of this dual flight-mode has been explored before – we’ve seen it in small drones, and in large, manned military aircraft. Where things differ the most today is the addition of solar panels.

Solar Roadways panels Solar Roadways

Unfurling nearly 7 feet of solar panels on the top surface of the fixed wings, the SUAV:Q is able to keep batteries from calling it quits as fast as you and I are accustomed to. We wish we had some actual flight time numbers to report right now, but we at least understand that the panels are not enough to sustain indefinite flight.

Farmers shall enjoy the benefits of this continued research, with the next stage of the process taking at least the next 6 months. That said, I am going to dream of ways to attach active charging solar panels onto some of my drones, I’ll let you know if that ever gets off the ground.

Has your drone reached its battery life wall, or do you get the right amount of air time for your needs?

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