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Merging Solar Tech with Drones Might Get Easier

Battery life sucks, but a new partnership could improve it

May 24, 2017

A new partnership between solar energy technology company Alta Devices and energy management company PowerOasis could make it easier to merge solar tech with drones.

Anyone who knows even the slightest thing about drones knows that, overall, battery life sucks. But the new partnership could change this. Alta Devices and PowerOasis are hoping to develop the world’s first reference design — essentially, a blueprint for other companies to reference and follow — for integrated solar/lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries for drones.

Behemoth tech companies are already exploring the potential for solar-powered drones: Facebook is making progress with its Aquila drone, and Google gave solar a shot with its now-defunct Titan. This new union between Alta Devices and PowerOasis could be a game changer for other drone manufacturers interested in the alternative energy.

Rich Kapusta, Alta Devices CMO, said in the past, UAV manufacturers would have had to work with multiple companies in order to get the right technology to create a solar/Li-ion hybrid powered system. But this partnership simplifies that process.

“By working together and providing a complete architecture for a well-crafted power system, PowerOasis and Alta Devices are streamlining the UAV development process,” Kapusta said in a statement. “We are providing a complete system for electric aircraft and UAVs, eliminating the distraction and time required to focus on the intricacies of power design.”

Drones using solar energy to fly can typically stay aloft much longer than those relying on battery packs. With this in mind, the combination of Li-ion battery power with the range and power extension of Alta Devices’ solar cells could allow drones to fly much longer.

Alta Devices and PowerOasis hope to release the design, which will initially be available exclusively through them, later this year.

More details from Alta Devices about the reference design:

  • The reference design will target 2-4 meter (6.5-13 feet) span UAVs, using 5s-7s Li-ion batteries. Features include: High-efficiency, light-weight, modular power systems
  • Management of battery packs using a cell-vendor agnostic, flexible battery management system (BMS)
  • Communication to ground control and on-board autopilot with continuous real-time power and energy data
  • Conditioned power outputs for critical power and payload systems
Featured image: Alta Devices