U.S. military and commercial drones could soon fly for three times longer without need for a battery boost thanks to two new innovations meant to extend battery life.
Lockheed Martin was working on a way to give its Stalker drone more airtime and it came up with a system that recharges the drones battery via laser power, allowing the device to fly upwards of 15,000 feet for up to 48 hours at a time. Lockheed has only tested the new system indoors but plans to test the system outdoors in the near future.
Also testing new battery tech is Somatis Technologies, Inc., which ReadWriteWeb reveals is turning to kinetic energy composite technology that turns wind pressure and vibration interaction into electrical power. If the technology is a success it could triple battery life for gliding and handheld drones which typically have a wing span of approximately five feet. The small drones typically fly for 45 minutes when loading with munition compared to 14 hours from fully loaded drones. Somatis Technologies is focusing on piezoelectric composites which turn mechanical energy into electrical energy.
Battery technology and longer flying times will likely receive more research now that the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill will make it easier to fly unmanned aerial vehicles in the U.S. by 2015.
Drones could be used for everything from policing busy city streets to investigating a fire in a high rise building. Officials have even talked about monitoring remote areas for drug and human traffickers.
If the U.S. drone program is to become a viable industry outside of wartime activities battery technology will be a key element of the program as fire, rescue and police agencies examine devices that not only operate as advertised but that can operate for long periods without much downtime.