Research into unmanned aircraft has been going on for some time. Called UAVs for Unmanned Airborne Vehicles, systems of various types have been under development since the 1908’s. The 1982 war between Syria and Israel was heavily impacted by Israel’s use of UAVs to sustain a major military advantage over Syrian armed forces.
As with many developments in technology, the UAV programs in the United States began as military programs and over several years, produced a lot of military hardware. Systems with very narrowly defined capability, short flight duration, some disposable, some radio controlled. Some systems with cameras for reconnaissance, some with lasers for target acquisition, some with actual weapons systems on board.
While all this development was going on, a variety of alternate solutions have cropped up. The engineering firm Aerovironment built and flew the first solar powered airplane. While the accomplishment was clearly a first, sustained unmanned air flight without fuel, it had a subtle side effect, the propellers were driven by electric motors. A giant shift in perspective since all the work being done up to this point was based on small combustion or micro turbine engines.
The shift to electric motor propulsion, whether intentionally or coincidentally, led to the creation of what we recognize today as drones. Drones have been designed to carry amazing variety of payloads, the most popular of which has been the camera. Amazon is talking about delivery your latest order by drone, pizza, who knows what’s next.
The latest drone concept debut at the CES and it is designed to carry a human being. Reverse of the original concept.
The E Hang 184 is designed to carry a human passenger. 1 passenger. With a cruising speed of 62 miles an hour, and a range of approximately 23 minutes. Pricing is expected to be in the range of $200,000 to $300, 000. That’s a lot of money for 20 minutes of flying time.
It’s a lot like the electric car. Very cool emerging technology. Very well thought out, a “self driving” control model that interacts with a central server for collision prevention. But when it comes to range anxiety, this is going to be nothing like your Prius.
When designing a conventional drone, flying time per battery charge is a key parameter for customers. The difference between a 20 minute flying time and a 45 minute flying time is generally worth quite a bit. As with any electric power means of transportation, a personal drone vehicle is going to be about the battery. We have squeezed the motor and control technology about as far as we can. You can only get so much propeller force per watt of stored power. Except that the load is not rolling, it’s airborne. So for every minute more flying time you need more battery AND more motor to handle the extra vehicle weight.
Can you spell micro-turbine range extender?