A drone in flight forever… with in-flight battery changes

Drones have become a fact of life, whether it’s the kid down the street crashing it for Christmas, or Amazon delivery. Drones save lives through organ transplant transfer between hospitals. But how can we keep them in the air?

Keeping drones in the air is a series of compromises. If you want to fly longer, you need bigger batteries. Bigger batteries add more weight. More weight shortens flight time.

But what if you could swap batteries mid-flight? This is really complex. You’d essentially have a battery drone fly above the drone needing a battery, and land on a tray mounted on its top surface. Legs of the battery drone align with electrical contacts in the corners of the tray.

The battery drone can power the main drone for 5 minutes, and then it flies off, to be replaced by another one. Doing this extends the flight time of the main drone from 12 minutes to an hour. IEEE Spectrum has more information on the research involved.

This is one of the sorts of innovations that works in the lab, but needs more development to make it out into the real world. It’s obviously expensive, requiring special drones and battery mounting systems.

?Flying Batteries: In-flight Battery Switching to Increase Multirotor Flight Time,? by Karan P. Jain and Mark W. Mueller from the High Performance Robotics Lab at UC Berkeley, is available on arXiv.

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