Drones

Firefly drone boasts 2-hour runtime and 100-lb cargo capacity

Firefly drone boasts 2-hour ru...
The Firefly drone, pictured here set up for the delivery of medical supplies
The Firefly drone, pictured here set up for the delivery of medical supplies
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The Firefly drone, pictured here set up for the delivery of medical supplies
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The Firefly drone, pictured here set up for the delivery of medical supplies
While a fuel tank feeds the gas engines, the Firefly drone's electric motors are powered by a 60V/5,000-mAh lithium battery
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While a fuel tank feeds the gas engines, the Firefly drone's electric motors are powered by a 60V/5,000-mAh lithium battery
If any one of the Firefly's hybrid modules fails, it can keep on flying using the other three
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If any one of the Firefly's hybrid modules fails, it can keep on flying using the other three
The Firefly drone measures 0.95 m tall by 1.65 m long (3 ft by 5 ft, 5 in)
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The Firefly drone measures 0.95 m tall by 1.65 m long (3 ft by 5 ft, 5 in)
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Multicopter drones already have many uses, but they're still held back by relatively short flight times and limited lifting capacities. The Firefly quadcopter is designed to address those shortcomings, with the ability to fly for about two hours and carry up to 100 lb.

Manufactured by California-based startup Parallel Flight Technologies, the Firefly was developed in partnership with NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the United States Department of Agriculture.

It features a parallel hybrid drive system, in which each of its four propellers is powered by a module that combines an electric motor and a gasoline engine. The motor is used for maneuvers that require instantaneous torque – such as take-offs and landings – while the engine takes over for cruising. Additionally, if any one of those modules fails, the drone can keep on flying using the other three.

While a fuel tank feeds the gas engines, the Firefly drone's electric motors are powered by a 60V/5,000-mAh lithium battery
While a fuel tank feeds the gas engines, the Firefly drone's electric motors are powered by a 60V/5,000-mAh lithium battery

Current estimates call for the production version of the copter to be able to fly for 1 hour and 40 minutes (or cover a distance of 125 miles/201 km) when carrying its maximum 100-lb (45-kg) payload slung beneath its main body. The runtime jumps to 3 hours and 20 minutes (or 250 mi/402 km) if the payload is reduced to 50 lb (23 kg). By contrast, most pure-electric quadcopters top out at around 30 minutes and 10 lb (4.5 kg).

Because it's equipped with GPS, the drone can be programmed to follow a predetermined flight path, performing its own take-offs and landings. That said, it can also be remotely controlled beyond line of sight via a radio signal, up to a distance of 37 miles (60 km).

The Firefly drone measures 0.95 m tall by 1.65 m long (3 ft by 5 ft, 5 in)
The Firefly drone measures 0.95 m tall by 1.65 m long (3 ft by 5 ft, 5 in)

One of the primary possible uses for the Firefly is the delivery of tools, fuel, food and water to crews fighting forest fires – down the road, it may even be able to autonomously locate smaller fires and drop water onto them. It could also be used to deliver medical supplies and samples to and from remote locations; to assist at disaster sites; or to perform various other functions in the industrial sector.

Parallel Flight Technologies is currently seeking investors on the Start Engine crowdfunding platform, plus it's also inviting prospective users to take part in a beta testing program.

There's currently no word on when the Firefly may reach production. In the meantime, you can watch CEO Joshua Resnick describing how he came up with the idea for the drone, in the video below.

Parallel Flight Technologies

Source: Parallel Flight Technologies

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6 comments
6 comments
michael_dowling
Just what we need,another source of CO2,helping destroy the climate. At the very least,I hope they use biogasoline to fuel the thing.
EH
Enough payload for children up to about 12 years old ... the coolest way to get dropped off at school ... let's make it happen!
Bob809
At the 2 minute 51 point, the guy is putting fuel into the tank -that's what it looks like to me. Where is the funnel to help with this, so there are no potentially dangerous results from that process if any is spilled? That aside, I think this truly is a game changer, or will be. The potential for a product like this is huge, scaled up versions carrying more weight, lighter engines developed, running off different less flammable/explosive fuels, especially in forest fire scenarios. Look forward to seeing more about this.
darkcook
@michael: Do you ever get tired of beating that drum? I like electric stuff as much as the next guy. But if a 100% electric powertrain could meet the same requirements, you'd see them out there everywhere. It can't--not yet. The energy density just isn't there. It might be someday, but today is not the day. So for now, fossil fuel sources are the way to go if you want to have a 2-hour duration and be able to lift that weight. Which were obvious mission requirements for this design. You can pack way more energy per unit mass with liquid fuels than anything electric. Just no way around that right now. So how about saying, "wow, that is pretty cool! Nice job guys. Keep up the good work. I'm excited to see where this might go in the future" instead of crying about 60-grams of CO2. You can give up your iPhone if you care that much about CO2.
Aermaco
For all the weight of their ICE systems, they should study H2 Fuel Cells for range that batteries cant do and then be more relevant to environmental needs in the future
eirobotix
This is very ambitious & am interested to see if they deliver on the endurance & paylaod capacity claims.

Controlling a multirotor via direct engine torque acceleration & braking response is challenging as is integrating hybrid propulsion systems directly into the aircraft flight control loops. The Parallel way is a complex one - wish them the best of luck here.

Hydrocarbon fuels are the only option of delivering long endurance (>30 mins) in multirotor systems. Battery system don't even come close as the difference when the full cycle of getting the mechanical power to the propeller makes fuels almost an order of magnitude more attractive plus other advantages they bring (no recharging, quick refills, only carry the mass of fuel you need, etc.). Ballpark numbers industrial multirotors will use as much as 1kg of fuel per hour per 10 kg of total aircraft weighs when working hard - it's not exactly news worthy unless you have an agenda to push. Think of the work they can do replacing traditional helicopter roles that use hundreds of litres of fuel per hour... It's a good result until we figure out how to do energy better.