There are many exciting things happening in the drone world. In particular, the new FPV goggles are providing better range and clarity which allows for better first person view flights. (A review is on the way soon).
We also have increased battery capacity developments in the works. Honestly, I think this is one of the things that is really keeping the drone world from massive growth. Here’s the harsh and hidden truth… most drone racers only last about 5 minutes. So while you’re seeing cool YouTube videos of drones flying around, what you don’t see is that after about 5-6 minutes, they have to cut the video to change the batteries (or recharge them if they don’t have any spares lying around).
Is that really enough?
It reminds me of the early RC days in the 1990’s when it was typical for RC cars to last about 5 minutes. People would race them around for a few minutes, only to have the fun ruined by the lack of batteries. Now don’t get me wrong, battery technology has come a long way since then and the largest LIPO batteries hold an immense amount of power (relative to our old AA batteries) but it’s still not enough.
“Back in the 90’s, enjoying 5 minutes of RC fun was considered normal”
In order to propel the drone market into the future, we need more efficient electric motors, better aerodynamics and larger capacity batteries (while minimizing the size & weight). Right now, as we stand, the typical drone has 4 powerful motors strapped onto a rough chassis with absolutely no consideration to drag and efficiency.
Drone Technology Developments
The biggest advancement so far is that we’re using larger, more efficient propellers. Big deal!
The current solution is to build larger drones with more weight and more batteries. Sure, this makes sense up to a certain point until you end up having a 35lbs drone that is above the allowed FCC weight for enthusiast. Next thing you know, you have agents knocking at your door because your drone is too heavy!
Possible Solutions On The Horizon:
Alternate power sources aren’t likely going to arrive anytime soon and using gas powered engines is more of a step backwards rather than forward. So we’re going to be stuck waiting for manufacturers to develop lighter, higher capacity batteries. However, as the RC community evolves, we can (and should) concentrate on building more efficient RC drones for the next generation to enjoy. We’ve been waiting to review a drone with a 25+ minute flight time for a while! (One that isn’t 20+ lbs)
That means more efficient motors, better frames that aim to reduce turbulence (instead of increasing it) and better propeller configurations. Sure, I’ll agree that these tweaks will incrementally account for a minor percentage of efficiency increase but if we keep on adding them up, we’ll eventually get to an acceptable number.
What is that number?
The Ideal Quadcopter
Ideally, racing quadcopter should be able to fly for 30 minutes on one battery pack. With extended battery packs, we would like to aim for 60 minute flight times. This would allow us to achieve a decent range and functionality. I know this article has been mostly about racing drones but imagine what you could do if you had drone that could fly for an hour? That would be more than enough time to do pretty much anything you you’d want your drone to do. (Including advanced surveying, delivering packages, racing around real obstacle courses, etc.)
Perhaps the future of drones will be influenced by the advancements made by the Tesla motor company. As they continue to improve electric propulsion efficiency, we’ll surely benefit from the technology. Only time will tell how fast that will happen.