Drones

Solar-powered quadcopter can reportedly "fly for hours"

Solar-powered quadcopter can r...
Aaron Danner (right) and his student team, with the solar-powered drone
Aaron Danner (right) and his student team, with the solar-powered drone
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Aaron Danner (right) and his student team, with the solar-powered drone
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Aaron Danner (right) and his student team, with the solar-powered drone
Aaron Danner (right) and his student team, with the solar-powered drone
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Aaron Danner (right) and his student team, with the solar-powered drone

We've heard about "solar-powered" quadcopters before, in which their battery is charged by ground-based photovoltaic panels. Now, however, engineering students have built a copter that draws its power directly from onboard solar cells, apparently allowing it to stay airborne as long as the sun is shining.

Developed by a student team from the National University of Singapore (NUS), the drone is built mainly from carbon fiber, tipping the scales at just 2.6 kg (5.7 lb). It has no onboard battery or other energy-storage system, but is instead equipped with an array of 148 silicon solar cells, giving it a total surface area of approximately 4 square meters (43 sq ft).

Under the supervision of associate professor Aaron Danner, eight successive groups of students have been working on the project since 2012. Although a drone that combined solar and battery power was flown in the past, this is NUS' first one to rely solely on direct solar power.

So far, it has been flown by remote control up to an altitude of over 10 meters (33 ft). As it's equipped with a GPS system, it can reportedly also fly autonomously.

It is hoped that this proof-of-concept model could ultimately lead to solar-powered quadcopters that might serve as power-providing "flying solar panels" at disaster sites, or that could be used for tasks such as surveillance and photography. For some applications, the addition of an integrated battery would let the aircraft keep flying at night or in cloudy conditions.

"Our aircraft is extremely lightweight for its size, and it can fly as long as there is sunlight, even for hours," says Danner. "Unlike conventional quadcopter drones, our aircraft does not rely on onboard batteries and hence it is not limited by flight time. Its ability to land on any flat surface and fly out of the ground effect in a controlled way also makes it suitable for practical implementation."

You can see the drone in flight, in the following video. And although it's being called Asia's first fully solar-powered quadcopter, a student team from Queen Mary University of London claimed to have built one five years ago.

Source: National University of Singapore

100% solar-powered quadcopter drone

11 comments
SimonClarke
That is absolutely awesome. Well done to everyone in the team. most 'multi rotor copters' are limited to around 20 minutes flight time. As stated in the article several of these hovering over a disaster area looking for heat signatures and human movement would help to identify injured people. they would also be able to give the ground commander a great overall view.
Rustgecko
The article states that it could fly at night with a battery. The reason it can fly (in Singapore directly on the tropics), is that it is light and has a relatively large area of cells. For it to fly at night it would need batteries which would immediately increase its weight so it's flight time would be just as short a time as conventional quadrocopters.
Brian M
Absolutely daft and dangerous not to have any battery backup. If sun power is lost/reduced then that is one drone heading for the ground totally out of control! The use of a LiPo should be mandatory in their design, only has to be sufficient to keep the control system going and with enough lift capacity to gently return the drone to ground automatically. 'a student team from Queen Mary University of London claimed to have built one five years ago.' Yep so have many hobbyists as well!
sidmehta
Payload weight?
Bricorn
Hmmmm, that's quite a surface area and small motors, one gust of wind and it's in the next county!
windykites
You know what? A helium balloon can fly almost indefinitely, with or without sun light, day and night. You only need a tether.
owlbeyou
Too wobbly for my liking.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
The solar collector should double as the lift surface as it does in other solar aircraft. Maybe its control system could use the solar panels that way. It could use the rotors as generators while descending or in thermals.
Bob Stuart
Agreed - the solar cells should be on big, slow rotors, but it will be tricky getting it strong enough to fly in brisk, turbulent winds.
Magnetron
These guys should bring this flying machine to Alaska where the sun doesn’t set for a couple of months. Also, could anyone explain why the square solar cells have cropped corners? Surely this would decrease sunlight capture by a few percent? I like the idea above about the cells being in an airfoil shape because it could glide on thermals too.