As well as taking aerial photography to the next level, small drones can help tackle wildlife poaching, survey industrial sites, be used for mapping, deliver packages or assist with policing an area. But most battery-powered drones are limited by a relatively short battery life. California's Impossible Aerospace says its upcoming US-1 drone will fly for much, much longer per charge than competitors, and should put electric drones on a par with gas-fueled systems.

"The US-1 is more than just a drone," said company CEO Spencer Gore. "It's the first aircraft designed properly from the ground up to be electric, using existing battery cells without compromise. It's not so much an aircraft as it is a flying battery, leveraging an energy source that doubles as its primary structure. This is how electric aircraft must be built if they are to compete with conventional designs and displace petroleum fuels in aviation."

And a flying battery it is, with 1.2 kWh of Li-ion cells spread throughout its x-shaped body. That makes the 660 x 660 mm (26 x 26 in) US-1 a bit of a weighty beast at 7.1 kg (15.7 lb) on its own, but it is reported capable of carrying a payload of up to 1.3 kg (2.9 lb).

With that payload, Impossible Aerospace says that users can expect a flight time of up to 78 minutes between charges of around 2.5 hours. An optional fast charger can be had to get the cells to 85 percent capacity in 45 minutes though. And if not carrying any payload, up to 120 minutes in the air is possible.

The US-1 has a top speed of 19 meters per second (42 mph), is IP43-protected against ingress and can operate in temperatures ranging from 0° C to 50° C (32° F - 122° F). It comes in a hard case and 16 channel remote with a 128 x 64 backlit LCD panel displaying real-time flight data.

Impossible Aerospace has already started selling its optical and thermal sensor-packing drone to firefighters, police departments and search and rescue teams across the US, but will make the system more widely available beginning Q4 2018.

A basic version of the US-1 drone will cost US$7,500, while a model designed for use with thermal imaging cameras will be priced at $9,500. The hardshell case for the latter includes a 20-inch video display and 12-inch control screen, a built-in battery and can receive 1080/60p footage from up to 1 km (0.62 mi) away at 1-2 ms latency. The company can provide Flir thermal cameras at an additional cost.

You can get the briefest of brief looks at the US-1 in the video below.

View gallery - 2 images