UAVs are a rapidly growing market and, whereas once they were the domain of the military, they are now used in a variety of civilian market applications. Small and affordable UAVs allow for industrial, agricultural, and service use among others and there is even interest from cellular networks in using drones in their infrastructure.
But there is also a huge market for consumer-grade models for hobbyists and artists. And with the growth of this sector, one of the main problems for consumers is choosing the right model and then, as proud owners, being frustrated by the limitations of their UAV’s battery life.
Fixed wing vs rotor wing
Both categories of UAV design—fixed wing and rotor wing—have their pros and cons. The main advantage of the fixed-wing design is the need for less thrust, which means that less energy is used, preserving the battery. Some models even include small solar panels on the wings, making the UAVs more sustainable and environmentally-friendly.
However, fixed-wing design also means that going slower than a certain speed is not an option. Minimum speed is necessary to keep the UAV in the air, making hovering impossible. What’s more, this type of UAV can only move forward and requires a large area for takeoff and landing.
As a result, rotor-wing design is superior in many cases. Especially in urban environments, where it can take off vertically, hover, and change direction quickly. Even though this design has more manoeuvrability and many advantages over the fixed-wing type of UAV, its battery life can be dismally short.
Electric vs ICE
Internal combustion engine (ICE) UAVs are the first choice for endurance flights. But although they can fly longer, they need an auxiliary starting motor and their control is more complex. They also produce much higher noise levels.
Environmentally-minded consumers tend to avoid internal combustion engines in general, so these UAVs are not necessarily a good option for those that want to make greener decisions when it comes to large purchases.
The electric UAV is the greener choice. Even though the batteries themselves are not the most environmentally-friendly solution, good batteries can last a long time before they need to be recycled.
Electric UAVs also tend to be more reliable, energy efficient, and quieter. What’s more, they are easier to operate and tend to be smaller and more manageable, so hobbyists choose them more readily.
But there is also a third choice. Smart design and technological developments mean that hybrid options are possible, marrying the advantages of both ICE and electric designs. Hybrid solutions combine the two choices, allowing for an optimized ICE engine size while using the battery for range extension, emergency landing, or power assist. It also provides noise reduction when UAVs need to operate quietly.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much that the end-user can do about battery life. UAVs require a lot of power and battery technology isn’t yet at a place where a small pack will last a very long time. Whatever the type and size of the UAV battery, users have to watch the clock like a hawk each time they operate their drone.
Additionally, changing weather conditions and additional systems onboard can affect battery life significantly and unpredictably. So planning missions is vital to ensuring that the drone doesn’t crash or get stranded with no power available.
Consumers can also use their UAVs in a way that preserves battery life—such as using hybrid ready products—while they wait for the industry to start installing more efficient motors and systems in their designs, like the ones manufactured by ePropelled.