Boeing’s Mid-Air Charging Lets Drones Fly Forever

Boeing has been granted a patent that allows drones to recharge while flying by connecting a tether to a ground-based power station.

Everyone knows battery life is an issue when it comes to drones. Whether it’s a consumer drone, commercial drone, military drone, everyone would like drones to be able to stay in the air for a bit longer.

Boeing might have found a way to do just that. Boeing was granted a patent that works only for airship-style and other buoyant drones.

The patent describes a system that uses tether-equipped drones that can connect with ground-based power supplies to recharge the drones, which remain airborne. When the drone is completely charged, it continues on its merry way making room for another drone to use the recharging station.

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According to the patent, drones would either come equipped with a tether that connects to the charging station, or they’d fly up to a floating tether and connect that way. The tether can even be connected to moving vehicles, allowing the drone to charge while flying.

The video below does a great job explaining more about how the system would work.

Again this patent is designed for airship-style drones, so it might not yet be applicable for the more popular quadcopter-style consumer drone. But it’s the latest attempt to improve the flying time of drones. A Singapore-based company called Horizon Unmanned Systems recently unveiled its Hycopter drone that runs on hydrogen power and can fly for four hours at a time - 2.5 hours when carrying a 2.2-pound payload.

Hycopter uses its frame to store energy in the form of hydrogen instead of air, eliminating energy storage weight. With less lift power required, Hycopter’s fuel cell turns the hydrogen in its frame into electricity to power its rotors.

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Boeing’s recharging system can be connected to moving vehicles, allowing the drone to charge while flying.

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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