Category Archives: Drone news

A History of Lithium Ion or Why Hybrid Electric is the Future of Aviation

By Dr. Troy Mestler, CEO, Skyfront

Tuesday, September 17, 2018

Electric propulsion has changed aircraft manufacturing. The reason is simple: wires bend. Shafts and gears do not. To build a helicopter engineers no longer have to design around a long mechanical shaft and heavy, failure-prone gearbox and clutch that spin to transmit power from the engine to the rotors.

With electric propulsion, power is routed to the propulsors over wires. Wires bend easily to accommodate a design optimized for aerodynamics, safety and ease of manufacturing. Power is provided wherever power is needed. This frees up space and reduces both weight and complexity, reducing production costs and time to market by an order of magnitude. This “propulsion by wire” is the reason there are so many drone companies today.

As great as electric propulsion sounds, there is one problem with it: batteries have nowhere near the energy density required for safe flight. The designers of manned multirotors forget that one of the principal causes of UAV failures is that batteries unexpectedly run out of power. Today, the total flight time of a battery-powered VTOL aircraft is equal to the reserve flight time required of a helicopter by the FAA. Nobody who understood the risks learned by the aviation community in the last 110 years would fly regularly in a battery-powered vehicle.

So, when are batteries going to get better?

A History of Lithium Ion

To answer that question, it is helpful to understand the history of the lithium-ion battery. The lithium-ion battery was first developed by M Stanley Whittingham in the 1970s while at Exxon. Exxon manufactured his battery, but the battery’s constituents were too expensive and too volatile to be made into a commercial product.

The term “lithium-ion” represents a class of batteries in which lithium ions move between the cathode and anode. The makeup of the cathode, the anode, and the electrolyte separating the two are what define the different subtypes of lithium-ion batteries. Over the years, scientists made many attempts to commercialize Li-Ion batteries by experimenting with different cathodes, anodes, and electrolytes to make them cheaper, safer, and more reliable. These advancements culminated in Sony releasing the first commercial Li-ion battery in 1991.

Today, nearly fifty years after Whittingham’s discovery, lithium ion and its subtype, lithium polymer (LiPo), have become the predominant battery type for energy-intensive devices from laptops to drones.

The reason it took so long was due to the sheer number of constraints that batteries must satisfy before entering the market. Energy density is but one constraint that batteries must satisfy in the aviation industry. Batteries must also be cheap, powerful, reliable, safe, versatile, and long-lasting.

For example, sulfur cathode lithium has four times the energy stored in a traditional LiPo battery, enough to fly an aircraft for four or more hours. But the problem is that they are prone to failure and typically need to be replaced after 50 charge-discharge cycles, which is far too few for a mission-critical application like aviation.

Similarly, silicon anode batteries can achieve two to ten times the energy density of existing batteries, but also have a limited number of charge-discharge cycles and cost tens of thousands of dollars per cell.

Battery technology is science, not engineering, and science always moves at a much slower, unpredictable pace. For the aviation industry, this means that a manned, long-range, commercial, battery-powered aircraft is many, many years away.

A Hybrid Approach to Aviation

Hybrid-electric propulsion combines the energy density of gasoline with the simplicity of electric propulsion. Today, hybrid multirotors can fly for up to 5 hours and eliminate most of the reliability and maintenance issues associated with gas-powered helicopters (e.g., engine vibrations, swash plates, gearboxes, and drive shafts).

Hybrid technology is more than just a compromise until batteries improve. It has many advantages of its own. For example, the battery can act as backup power if an engine failure occurs, eliminating power loss as one of the most common contributors to crashes. Other important advantages include:

– Fast refuelling/recharging

– Sub-zero temperature operation

– Eliminating the maintenance and transportation of many batteries

– Reducing battery replacements

– The ability to isolate and dampen the engine from the airframe

When applied to aeroplanes, hybrid-electric technology also improves fuel economy by downsizing the engine (which saves weight) and enables it to operate in its most efficient state during the cruise. Hybrid technology can also improve noise pollution by providing the option of only running the engine at altitude, far away from people.

While companies like Opener, Joby, and Uber are sticking to pure electric, many others have taken note of the benefits of hybrid technology. Rolls Royce, Bell Helicopter, and SureFly have all released plans for building full-scale hybrid VTOL aircraft. And Zunum Aero (funded by Boeing), NASA (in collaboration with ESAero and Launchpoint Technologies), Siemens, and Airbus have developed or begun developing hybrid-electric aeroplanes.

All the above is not to say that batteries will not improve eventually or that we should not invest in battery technology. But for the foreseeable future, hybrid technology will become the predominant source of power for electric-based aviation.

Troy Mestler, Ph.D., is the CEO of Skyfront (www.skyfront.com), a company that builds hybrid-electric multirotor drones that fly for up to 5 hours and over 100 miles.

Aker aerial imagery trials showing ROI from corn and soybean fungicide

This season, third-party trials conducted by growers and in collaboration with Aker are tracking plant health and yield results for Delaro®, a new corn and soybean fungicide from Bayer. As the season progresses, comparison images show the positive plant health benefits Delaro has on crops.

After applying fungicide, Aker uses high-resolution drones to capture multiple images of the fields. The results give growers a map, with red areas indicating less healthy plants and green representing healthy plants. The trials will also track yield comparisons.

“Monitoring a crop in a season can help pinpoint if plants are under stress from things like disease,” said Todd Golly, co-founder of Aker. “Using aerial imagery helps growers understand how to better optimize inputs, which can increase yield and profitability. It helps growers be more productive in the field.”

Delaro provides broad-spectrum residual activity from dual modes of action, giving growers disease protection from day one through the end of the spray interval. This allows for consistent performance and better yields. It also improves plant health, allowing corn and soybeans to better handle stress.

“Trials in 2017 found that Delaro provided a substantial yield increase over the untreated check in corn and soybeans,” said Ray Lello, fungicides product manager at Bayer. “However, we also consistently heard from trial participants that they observed improved plant health from Delaro. That’s why we are thrilled to collaborate with Aker to track qualitative metrics like plant health in addition to the known quantitative yield results of Delaro over the untreated check in corn and soybeans. Understanding how these benefits help contribute to an overall return on investment is beneficial for growers as they look to get the most out of their corn hybrids and soybean varieties.”

Delaro was first available for the 2018 growing season. Before its release, across two years of trials, Delaro averaged a 12-18 bushel per acre increase in corn and a 4-5 bushel per acre increase in soybeans compared to untreated checks. In these trials, Delaro had a 90 per cent win rate over the untreated checks.

Aker is an in-season crop monitoring and autonomous scouting solution for farming globally. Aker enables proactive observation and directed scouting to alert of adverse environmental conditions impacting crop health and yield.

© 2018 Bayer CropScience LP, 800 North Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63167. Always read and follow label instructions. Bayer, the Bayer Cross and Delaro are registered trademarks of Bayer. Delaro is not registered in all states. For additional product information, call toll-free 1-866-99-BAYER (1-866-992-2937) or visit our website at www.cropscience.bayer.us.

Learn more at delaro.us and aker.ag.

BSHARK Launch Hydrogen Drone, Narwhal 2

BSHARK, an expert on hydrogen-powered drone research, has partnered with MicroMultiCopter (MMC)-a manufacturer of the first hydrogen-powered drone HyDrone 1550. BSHARK released a new hydrogen-powered drone Narwhal 2. MMC provided production service for BSHARK. The new drone is an upgraded hydrogen quad-copter with LTE module and 30 km video transmission range and is available on September 16.

Upgraded core components

Based on aerial aluminum, the frame of Narwhal 2 is rain, dust and fireproof. As a drone fueled by hydrogen, Narwhal 2’s core components must be absolutely reliable. A metal-based PEM fuel cell is deployed instead of the graphite plate, which greatly accelerates the power density. For storage, Narwhal 2 is equipped with a standard type 4 hydrogen cylinder made of carbon fiber and covered with aluminum alloy with at least 500 filling time lifespans. Moreover, the valve has a built-in temperature sensor.

30 KM video transmitterand LTE module

“After dealing with the data transmission issues, we found that our drone is truly useful for long-distance missions,” the CEO of BSHARK Mr. Ling said. For this reason, Narwhal 2 has been developed with 30 km transmitters. Less than 0.25 seconds’ latency LTE module is also equipped to extend the operation range of UAVs, thus, 3G/ 4G, WIFI and other link methods are all available to link the drones and control stations.

Narwhal 2 is available for $6800.

A hydrogen fueling solution

Orca1, a mobile hydrogen fueling station with 99.999% output purity of hydrogen, is already on sale, making hydrogen fueling at home accessible.

About BSHARK

Based on the sustainable use of the hydrogen fuel cell for the enhancement of flight endurance for drones, BSHARK is committed to pursuing harmony between flight pleasures and environmental and safety features. BSHARK aims to offer hydrogen fuel cell drones on the commercial market at affordable prices.

For more information: www.bsharktech.com

“Bee Drone” Flies Like an Insect

The University of Maryland’s Perception and Robotics Group has been working on a system that allows a drone to fly through very small and completely unknown gaps using just a single camera and onboard processing. It’s based on a bee-inspired strategy that yields a success rate of 85 percent. The modified drone used in UMD’s experiments includes an Nvidia TX2 module mounted at the top. For sensing, the drone uses its front-facing camera and a downward-facing optical-flow sensor, which combines a camera plus sonar.

Here’s the scoop from the University of Maryland team:

Although quadrotors, and aerial robots in general, are inherently active agents, their perceptual capabilities in literature so far have been mostly passive in nature. Researchers and practitioners today use traditional computer vision algorithms with the aim of building a representation of general applicability: a 3D reconstruction of the scene. Using this representation, planning tasks are constructed and accomplished to allow the quadrotor to demonstrate autonomous behavior. These methods are inefficient as they are not task driven and such methodologies are not utilized by flying insects and birds. Such agents have been solving the problem of navigation and complex control for ages without the need to build a 3D map and are highly task driven.

In this paper, we propose this framework of bio-inspired perceptual design for quadrotors. We use this philosophy to design a minimalist sensori-motor framework for a quadrotor to fly though unknown gaps without a 3D reconstruction of the scene using only a monocular camera and onboard sensing. We successfully evaluate and demonstrate the proposed approach in many real-world experiments with different settings and window shapes, achieving a success rate of 85% at 2.5m/s even with a minimum tolerance of just 5cm. To our knowledge, this is the first paper which addresses the problem of gap detection of an unknown shape and location with a monocular camera and onboard sensing.

New Battery Configuration Allows 2-Hour Flights

California-based startup Impossible Aerospace says that their new battery configuration can allow drones to fly for two hours! The company says it simply rethought the way drones are designed and built and notes that its first drone, which is about the size of a DJI Phantom, can last up to two hours in the air, far longer than the 20- to 40-minute flight times offered by most other consumer or professional solutions.

It’s the kind of advancement that could radically change the businesses and industries that already rely on drones to get things done. And despite coming out of the shadows for the first time this week, the company’s CEO Spencer Gore has already set his sights on a far bigger target: the airline industry.

Impossible’s solution for squeezing more battery life — and, therefore, more flight time — out of a similarly sized package is relatively simple: instead of relying on a separable battery pack that gets snapped on or slotted into the drone, all the individual battery cells are tucked throughout its structure. The battery is not just in the drone; it basically makes up the entire thing. This means more battery cells can be used, but there’s also less non-battery weight to offset, which leads to longer flight times.


An illustration of how Impossible Aerospace lays out the batteries in the US-1 drone. Image: Impossible Aerospace

The final version Impossible Aerospace arrived at is a quadcopter that looks similar to others on the market, but it has between four to six times the total flight time that’s typically possible. Its performance doesn’t suffer, either. The US-1 tops out at 42 miles per hour and has a range of nearly 50 miles. The company is selling the drone bare for $7,500 or with a thermal camera package made by Flir for $10,000. (The drone fitted with the camera is only rated for about an hour and 10 minutes of flight time, according to Impossible Aerospace’s website.) Gore says he expects the majority of customers to be from the fields of private security, police, fire and rescue, or research.

Flirtey Drones Deliver Defibrillators

Flirtey joined forces last year with the City of Reno and partners such as AirMap and Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority to apply for fast-track designation under the FAA and Department of Transportation’s federal drone testing initiative. The Flirtey group was one of 10 applicants from across the country selected in the highly competitive pilot program, beating out a competing application from the state of Nevada that included heavy hitters such as Amazon.

The selection allowed Flirtey to receive a waiver from the federal government to do the multi-drone test, which demonstrated that one pilot can successfully control several drones. The test is an important achievement because it shows that drone delivery can be easily — and safely — expanded.

The life-saving applications of the technology were touted by Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve in her statement following the successful multi-drone test: “One of the key milestones that we needed to achieve to allow us to scale the program is to have one Flirtey pilot operate multiple drones at the same time,” Sweeney said. “To have the FAA come out to see us flying multiple drones and delivering packages is an important proof point that shows this program is succeeding.”

The test used Flirtey’s newest next-generation drone, which can carry heavier payloads for longer distances. The company demonstrated delivery of automated external defibrillators during the test to show the life-saving potential of drone technology in addition to its commercial applications.

With the success of its first multi-drone test, Flirtey says it will continue to work with the FAA and transportation department in order to secure the necessary approvals that will allow the company to start drone delivery, Sweeney said.

The goal is to start offering delivery by drone in Reno and expand it across the country. Flirtey has a partnership with FedEx, for example, that will allow the company to deliver packages by air or have its drones ready to go from FedEx locations.

Huge Ukranian Smuggler Drone

Here’s a drone on steroids! Ukranian border guards heard and investigated this multirotor’s admittedly loud flight and found it stuck in a tree on the outskirts of the village of Gorbivsti, about a kilometer of a mile from the border. What was it doing there? Likely smuggling tobacco products, narcotics, or even weapons. Considering the payload this monster drone could carry, that’s a lot of cigarettes!

Blade Inductrix FPV Brushless BNF Basic [VIDEO]

Blade Inductrix FPV Brushless BNF Basic

Blade Inductrix FPV Brushless BNF Basic

Blade Inductrix FPV Brushless BNF Basic
From Blade:

The Blade® Inductrix® FPV BL BNF® Basic drone brings all the features customers have been asking for in the most capable and feature-packed Inductrix platform yet. SAFE® technology makes flying simple while the ducted propeller design allows you to bounce off walls and objects without crashing! New channel changing video transmitter allows you to specifically tune to your preferred frequency and channel right from your Spektrum™ G2 or greater transmitter. Innovative Meow Mode™ allows you to flip the quadcopter back upright after a crash by quickly reversing the motor direction. The brushless power system brings a totally new experience while maintaining the size, simplicity, and durability that makes it one of the most popular platforms on the market. The On Screen Display now offers vital battery and telemetry data right in your video feed, so you always know where your battery and flight time stands. All this comes in a convenient Bind-N-Fly® Basic package. Add a Spektrum™ transmitter, goggle or monitor, and 1S 500mAh battery plus charger and start your adventure.

SAFE® Technology

Angle Mode:

Keeps you flying fast and in control with renowned self-leveling

Altitude Mode:

Maintains distance from ground while providing self-leveling, perfect for beginners

Agility Mode:

Freshly tuned agility mode takes full advantage of the brushless motors, with no self-leveling and full acrobatic capabilities

Meow™ Mode

Innovative Meow Mode™ will flip a crashed, upside down craft to an upright orientation at the push of a button, no more walk of shame! Just like a cat, the Inductrix FPV BL will always land on its feet.

Channel Changing Video Transmitter

Easily change the channel on your video transmitter without the guesswork. Your G2 Spektrum™ radio lets you specifically select what frequency and channel you want to be on.

Crisp Video

Clean video is relayed via a new CMOS camera and 25mW video transmitter that’s more than capable of traversing larger spaces, and friendly to other pilots.

On Screen Display

The on screen display presents vital battery and telemetry data to your goggles or on your external display screen. Quickly adjust OSD and telemetry settings directly from your transmitter.

New Frame Design

A newly engineered main frame significantly increases the durability of the drone, so crashes are stress-free. The canopy fully protects the camera, video transmitter, and flight controller while the airframe protects the motors and propellers from bumps and crashes.

Bind-N-Fly® Completion

No soldering or tinkering necessary, high performance right out-of-the-box.

Features:

  • Brushless Motor with micro brushless 4-in-1 ESC
  • SAFE® technology makes drone flying easy
  • Channel changing 25mW video transmitter
  • New durable frame design
  • 4 minute flying time

Needed to Complete:

  • 1S 500mAH battery (UM) and charger
  • Spektrum™ Transmitter
  • FPV Monitors or Goggles

What’s in the box?

(1) Blade Inductrix FPV BL BNF Basic

(1) User Manual

Specs:

Approximate Assembly Time: No assembly required

Approximate Flight Time: 4 minutes

Battery: 1s 500

Channels: 6 Channels

Completion Level: Bind-N-Fly Basic

Flying Weight: 55 grams

Height: 50 mm

Length: 110 mm

Main Frame Material: Plastic

Main Motor Type: Brushless

Motor Size: 0706 15000kv

Width: 105 mm

Visit BladeHelis.com

Blade Inductrix FPV Brushless BNF Basic

Blade Inductrix FPV Brushless BNF Basic

Blade Inductrix FPV Brushless BNF Basic

Drone Crashes During Inspection

This frightening video shows a drone crashing to the sidewalk — narrowly missing pedestrians — during an aerial inspection of a cracked window at San Francisco’s tilting Millennium Tower.

Building managers were conducting the aerial survey of the structure while KPIX 5 cameras were rolling.

The Millennium Tower’s homeowners association hired a drone pilot to take photos of a cracked window.

The pilot says the drone lost satellite signal. At one point, the drone was no longer under his control. The drone drifted left and hit a building across from the sinking skyscraper.

The drone missed several people on the sidewalk and fell within 10 feet of a little boy.

“It was falling,” he said.

Before it came crashing down the pilot flew the drone to the 36th floor to take video and photos of a cracked window. The broken glass was first noticed last week.

“We’re trying to evaluate whether the tilting has anything to do with it but we’re also looking at all other aspects of it, structural, whether it’s part of the window assembly, the manufacturing process, the installation process,” said HOA attorney Thomas Miller.

Since its completion in 2009, researchers say the 58-story Millennium Tower has sunk 16 inches. It has also tilted 2 inches to the northwest.

“If it was related to the tilting or sinking of the building, then you would likely see a pattern of other cracks perhaps in that same line of where this window is and I don’t know if this is just the first window to crack,” said Miller.

The homeowners association has taped up the window and put a wooden shelter down below on the sidewalk to protect the pedestrians.

They’re hoping the drone footage will help experts determine what’s causing this window to crack.

The pilot had to launch the drone from three different locations due to interference with his GPS and satellite signals. The Financial District is a difficult place to get a signal due to all the high-rise buildings.

He says he was able to get footage of the cracked window before it crashed. It was very fortunate nobody was hurt.

Next week, the HOA is going to have someone rappel down on the side of the building to remove the framing around the window so they can further inspect the cause.

They also plan to tape up that area so the glass doesn’t fall on the ground.