Power Alternatives for Commercial Drones

330 Power Drones for Web

Solution Options Expand

The amount of power a commercial drone can draw on has a direct impact on how long it can stay flying as well as on what tasks it can perform. But each kind of power source has its tradeoff.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

Because extending flight times is a major priority for drone applications, drone system designers are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve the power performance of their products. For smaller, consumer “recreational” style drones, batteries are the obvious power source. But when you get into larger commercial drone designs, there’s a growing set of alternatives. Tethered drone power solutions, solar power technology, fuel cells and advanced battery chemistries are all power alternatives that are on the table for today’s commercial drones.

According to market research firm Drone Industry Insights, the majority of today’s commercial drones use batteries as a power source. As Lithium-polymer (LiPo) and Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries have become smaller with lower costs, they’ve been widely adopted for drone use. The advancements in LiPo and Li-ion battery technologies have been driven mainly by the mobile phone industry, according to Drone Industry Insights.

Batteries Still Leading

The market research firm points to infrastructure as the main advantage of batteries. They can be charged anywhere. While Li-Po and Li-Ion are the most common battery technologies for drones, other chemistries are emerging. Lithium Thionyl Chloride batteries (Li-SOCl2) promises a 2x higher energy density per kg compared to LiPo batteries. And Lithium-Air-batteries (Li-air) promise to be almost 7x higher. However, those options aren’t widely available and are expensive. Meanwhile, Lithium-Sulfur-batteries (Li-S) is a possible successor to Li-ion thanks to their higher energy density and the lower costs of using sulfur, according to Drone Industry Insights.

Photo 1 The Graphene Drone FPV Race series LiPo batteries provide lower internal resistance and less voltage sag under load than standard LiPo batteries. As a result, the battery packs stay cooler under extreme conditions

Photo 1
The Graphene Drone FPV Race series LiPo batteries provide lower internal resistance and less voltage sag under load than standard LiPo batteries. As a result, the battery packs stay cooler under extreme conditions

Meanwhile battery vendors continue to roll out new battery products to serve the growing consumer drone market. As an example, in June 2017 battery manufacturer Venom released its new Graphene Drone FPV Race series LiPo batteries. The batteries were engineered for the extreme demands of today’s first person view (FPV) drone racing pilots (Photo 1). The new batteries provide lower internal resistance and less voltage sag under load than standard LiPo batteries. As a result, the battery packs stay cooler under extreme conditions. The Graphene FPV Race series Li-ion batteries are 5C fast charge capable, allowing you to charge up to five times faster. All of the company’s Drone FPV Race packs include its patented UNI 2.0 plug system (Patent no. 8,491,341). The system uses a true Amass XT60 connector that attaches to the included Deans and EC3 adapter.

Chip vendors from the analog IC and microcontroller markets offer resources to help embedded system designers with their drone power systems. Texas Instruments (TI), for example, offers two circuit-based subsystem reference designs that help manufacturers add flight time and extend battery life to quadcopters and other non-military consumer and industrial drones.  …

Read the full article in the January 330 issue of Circuit Cellar

Don’t miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar. Subscribe today!
Note: We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a free sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.

January Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The January issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is coming soon. And it’s got a robust selection of embedded electronics articles for you. Here’s a sneak peak.

Not a Circuit Cellar subscriber?  Don’t be left out! Sign up today:

 

Here’s a sneak preview of January 2018 Circuit Cellar:

 

                                     IMPROVING EMBEDDED SYSTEM DESIGNS

Special Feature: Powering Commercial Drones
The amount of power a commercial drone can draw on has a direct effect on how long it can stay flying as well as on what tasks it can perform. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines solar cells, fuel cells and other technology options for powering commercial drones.

CC 330 CoverFPGA Design: A Fresh Take
Although FPGAs are well established technology, many embedded systems developers—particularly those used the microcontroller realm—have never used them before. In this article, Faiz Rahman takes a fresh look a FPGAs for those new to designing them into their embedded systems.

Product Focus: COM Express boards
COM Express boards provide a complete computing core that can be upgraded when needed, leaving the application-specific I/O on the baseboard. This brand new Product Focus section updates readers on this technology and provides a product album of representative COM Express products.

TESTING, TESTING, 1, 2, 3

LF Resonator Filter
In Ed Nisley’s November column he described how an Arduino-based tester automatically measures a resonator’s frequency response to produce data defining its electrical parameters. This time he examines the resultsand explains a tester modification to measure the resonator’s response with a variable series capacitance.

Technology Spotlight: 5G Technology and Testing
The technologies that are enabling 5G communications are creating new challenges for embedded system developers. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest digital and analog ICs aimed at 5G and at the test equipment designed to work with 5G technology.

                                     MICROCONTROLLERS IN EVERYTHING

MCU-based Platform Stabilizer
Using an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), two 180-degree rotation servos and a Microchip PCI MCU, three Cornell students implemented a microcontroller-based platform stabilizer. Learn how they used a pre-programmed sensor fusion algorithm and I2C to get the most out of their design.

Designing a Home Cleaning Robot (Part 2)
Continuing on with this four-part article series about building a home cleaning robot, Nishant Mittal this time discusses the mechanical aspect of the design. The robot is based on Cypress Semiconductor’s PSoC microcontroller.

Massage Vest Uses PIC32 MCU
Microcontrollers are being used for all kinds of things these days. Learn how three Cornell graduates designed a low-cost massage vest that pairs seamlessly with a custom iOS app. Using the Microchip PIC32 for its brains, the massage vest has sixteen vibration motors that the user can control to create the best massage possible.

AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS:

Five Fault Injection Attacks
Colin O’Flynn returns to the topic of fault injection security attacks. To kick off 2018, he summarizes information about five different fault injection attack stories from 2017—attacks you should be thinking about as an embedded designer.

Money Sorting Machines (Part 2)
In part 1, Jeff Bachiochi delved into the interesting world of money sort machines and their evolution. In part 2, he discusses more details about his coin sorting project. He then looks at a typical bill validator implementation used in vending systems.

Overstress Protection
Last month George Novacek reviewed the causes and results of electrical overstress (EOS). Picking up where that left off, in this article he looks at how to prevent EOS/ESD induced damage—starting with choosing properly rated components.