Drones

Wing-integrated battery pack nearly doubles drone's flight time

The experimental drone takes flight in Ohio
The experimental drone takes flight in Ohio
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Research team members mount the battery wing on the drone
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Research team members mount the battery wing on the drone
The Case Western Reserve University team, with the fixed-wing drone
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The Case Western Reserve University team, with the fixed-wing drone
The experimental drone takes flight in Ohio
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The experimental drone takes flight in Ohio

We've already heard how batteries that are built into the structure of items – such as cars or satellites – could help extend run times without increasing bulk. Now, the flight time of a drone has been almost doubled, thanks to such "structural batteries."

Case Western Reserve University's Prof. Vikas Prakash started with a 7-foot-long (2.1-m), single-propeller, fiberglass-bodied fixed-wing drone. Over the course of three years, he proceeded to develop an energy-storage system in which battery cells were incorporated into the autonomous aircraft's 6-foot (1.8-m) wingspan.

The idea was that this setup would not only boost the amount of energy stored onboard, but that it could do so without sacrificing cargo space or adding much weight. Such technology would allow drones to either fly farther and for longer periods of time, or to carry additional sensors or other heavier payloads.

Research team members mount the battery wing on the drone
Research team members mount the battery wing on the drone

In previous tests performed at Ohio's Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, using a regular wing and the drone's standard battery pack, the aircraft was able to fly for a maximum of 91 minutes before needing a recharge. Late this February, however, it was tested with the battery wing swapped in. This change allowed it to remain airborne for a total of 171 minutes – almost three hours.

"This test demonstrates that the use of structural battery is a winning concept," says Prakash. "This will allow our crafts to fly longer and/or carry heavier payloads without compromising fuselage space."

Ultimately, it is hoped that such technology could be used not only in drones, but in a fully-electric passenger-carrying regional jet.

Sources: Case Western Reserve University, Ohio Federal Research Network

3 comments
toyhouse
The story says they worked to incorporate batteries into the wing. A battery wing could mean batteries simply tucked in among the ribs and spar. Or, attached to them in some meaningful way. But the article goes on to use the term, "structural batteries",. For me, that term could mean a few things that I'm already picturing. Wish there was a pic of the insides, lol.
MD
Fairly obvious, double battery size, increase range (not directly proportionally - as heavier aircraft need more power to have the same performance). 3 years to stuff a few more pouch cells in between the wing ribs?? ok, it was a concept for 2.75 years, then an undergrad student perfected it in 0.25 years after simulating it for 0.2 years - this is something one should get right on the first attempt.. Placing additional batteries in the wing, increases wing loading but of course does not increase loading on the main spar.. this must be why most aircraft carry a substantial amount of their energy reserves in the wings... good thinking 99. The problem with "structure integrated power systems" is that you may no longer be able to simply swap in a new battery, one may need replacement wings for a fast changeover.. ok I am underplaying a "marvellous" incremental advance... lol. ps, we need a new name for "regional jet" once they are no longer powered by a "Jet".
myale
Structural batteries - spin up lots of safety questions - as in the structure can take nocks and bangs so you would have to ensure the 'structural batteries' could also handle these and not burst into flames, electrify or earth the whole thing etc. I like the idea of the frame of a car or plane being part of an additional energy storage if those questions could be assured, not just in normal use but after damage etc.