The huge increase in speed – commercial devices generally take between 60 and 90 minutes to charge – could revolutionise the sector by improving the economic case for drone applications and allowing much greater autonomy.
Israeli firm StoreDot demonstrated the technology in a video call with journalists yesterday (29 July).
CEO Dr Doron Myersdorf showed a video of a commercial drone returning to an autonomous charging station with just 15% battery power remaining. The pod, developed with Airscort, slid back a cover to allow the drone in. It entered, charged for five minutes and took off again, all without human intervention. It then flew above the countryside for 30 minutes – the video was abridged in the middle – before returning to the base to repeat the cycle.
“When we first started saying it back in 2014, people thought it would never be possible,” said Dr Myersdorf. The company, which has previously achieved similar success with electric scooter charging, hopes its battery technology will transform transportation and reduce the 1.5bn combustion engines in use.
The StoreDot battery (Credit: StoreDot)
New materials are key to the ultra-fast charging (UFC). The 64-cell StoreDot battery, installed on a commercial drone, uses nanoparticle metalloids with very high diffusion and low resistance to replace graphite, which has high resistance and potential safety issues.
Self-healing protective polymers enhance mechanical strength to help maintain operation. The metalloids also extend battery life, while the battery system optimises the energy output.
The technology could even charge in just one minute, Dr Myersdorf claimed, but that would result in fewer cycles – maybe just 30, compared to 150.
The battery and charging pod system helps solve two key issues, the CEO said. Slow charging and ‘humans in the loop’ cause downtime, meaning drones spend longer on the ground than in the air. Replacing batteries before each flight can also be time-consuming and expensive.
The StoreDot batteries do not have a final price, but Dr Myersdorf expected them to be two- to three-times as expensive as conventional batteries. He predicted expanded applications in deliveries, agriculture, surveillance, mapping, remote sensing and military.
The charging stations are “very flexible”, he told Professional Engineering, with opportunities for off-grid or battery power if required. “You can have them attached to the grid or you can have them with batteries that attach to the drone. Depending on what’s in the environment, you can have very different methods of how you use the charging station… the implementation of this charging station really depends on what your company does and how it wants to protect the drone.”
The drone sits in its automatic charging station (Credit: StoreDot)
The charger has vents for cooling and is designed for harsh environments. It will likely be available in different price ranges.
“Continuous, fully-autonomous drone operation is finally being made a reality,” said Dr Myersdorf in an announcement.
“Drones will now be able to spend much more of their valuable flight time engaged in actual missions, greatly extending their range, rather than having to return to base to have their battery swapped out. At the same time, UFC will also enable drone users to expand their operations into regions they could not previously access. Both of these factors will significantly increase operational efficiencies and profitability, making the business case for drone use much more attractive than ever before.”
The company said it is now on track to achieve a five-minute charge of a four-wheeled passenger vehicle by the end of 2021. Its strategic partners are BP, Daimler, TDK and EVE Energy.
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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.