BShark has moved mountains to bring down the price of its long-range Narwhal 2 drone. Powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, this 6.6-kg (14.5-lb) monster flies for up to two hours, transmits up to 30 km (18.6 mi) away and costs just US$6,800, making it an attractive option for industrial inspection and surveillance applications.
BShark's Narwhal 1 was a beast in its own right, flying for up to three hours, but its crippling US$28,000 price tag shot it out of the sky for many prospective buyers. BShark was acutely aware that if it couldn't massively reduce prices on its next offering, it was finished – and likely, so was the entire idea of hydrogen-powered drones, unless somebody was willing to fight to make these things price-competitive.
But thanks to the "common dream" of a number of partners down the supply chain, the company seems to have smashed its goals with the remarkable Narwhal 2.
Making a long-endurance craft is impressive enough, but BShark was also aware that there's no point having long flights if you can't cover huge distances – otherwise, why not just get a two-grand Phantom drone with 20 batteries? So the Narwhal 2 has a monster 30-km range for both control and video transmission, meaning it can cover huge distances between stops. That'll make it terrific for things like power line inspections and border patrol missions.
The drone uses a 3.5-liter (0.92 gal) fuel tank, covered in carbon fiber, which packs in hydrogen at 35 megapascal pressures, or a touch over 5,000 psi. The airframe is lightweight carbon fiber, the all-in-one controller has its own built-in 10-inch touch screen running Android 7.1, and it supports a number of flight modes, including manual flight, target-guided flight and pre-planned routing through its custom software.
As for cameras and payloads, Narwhal 2 can carry up to a kilogram (2.2 lb), making a range of regular cameras, zoom cameras, infra-red cameras and other things like loudspeakers, searchlights and small drop boxes possible, depending on the mission.
If hydrogen supply is going to be an issue, BShark can help out with that too. Its Orca 1 hydrogen fueling station can generate, compress and supply as much hydrogen as you need. Unfortunately, it costs US$180,000, and while described as "portable" it's still the size of a small taco van. The company says we should expect to hear some very good news soon about Orca 2, which should be much smaller and much cheaper.
As one of relatively few companies pushing forward solely with fuel cell technology, BShark is very keen to work with other hydrogen innovators, whether they're involved in UAV design or not. Increased interest in the sector will drive up manufacturing volumes and help everyone in the business enjoy the kinds of economies of scale that have made such a huge impact on lithium battery-powered devices in the last 15 years.
You can watch the Narwhal 2 launch video below. It's long, but BShark CEO Ling's refreshingly candid discussion about the challenges hydrogen-powered technologies are facing makes it worth a look. In it, he asks Narwhal 2 buyers to work with BShark on the development of the Narwhal 3 – anyone whose ideas get incorporated will be flown to the Narwhal 3 launch, as well as treated to a free drone. You have to admire the company's attitude.
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