Drones are currently hung up on the same problem that smartphone manufacturers are butting up against. Namely, battery technology isn’t making any particularly noteworthy advancements. Although processors and other computing components are getting smaller and smaller, we’re still using roughly the same size batteries as we were a decade a go with only incremental improvements.
This is a big problem for drones, because most of them can only stay aloft for half an hour or so before exhausting their juice. If you want to add more battery power, well, that battery is going to be heavier, and you’ll need to use more energy to keep it in the air. Returns rapidly diminish.
There have been a number of projects looking to harness solar energy for drone recharging, but more interesting is the research being done in wireless charging. If these research initiatives are successful, then drones will be able to be powered mid-flight, vastly increasing their potential utility.
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Amazon is naturally interested in this tech, and they’ve filed a patent for the kind of infrastructure that would be necessary for drones to charge wirelessly as well as dock for quick recharging. But how will this wireless charging actually work?
Not very well, so far. Unfortunately, the amount of energy wasted in the wireless charging process rapidly increases with distance. Advances are being made, but so far the results – while fascinating – are nowhere close to widespread implementation.
The Imperial College of London, for instance have a team of researchers working on the problem. A paper detailed how long-range chargers may work for drones, and they even provided a proof of concept quadcopter that was able charge in mid-air… so long as it stayed within 5 inches of the charge base. Furthermore, the drone had to be specially constructed so that its components weren’t fried by the charge base.
Global Energy Transmissions is also making some interesting progress in this area, and they were able to keep a drone aloft for a full hour while wirelessly charging. However, the device required a tether, which obviously would prohibit the kind of widespread use that Amazon is imagining for their drones.
These things take time, of course, but researchers are hacking away at the problem. It may just be the case that our future drones won’t ever need to land for a charge session.
What are your thoughts regarding wireless drone charging? Technological dead end or the way of the future? Let us know your take in the comments below!