Hydrogen could solve drones' big problem

Intelligent Energy has introduced a new hydrogen fuel cell prototype for drones that tackles one of UAVs' biggest problems: flight time. Presently, quadcopters and similar drones have flight times counted by minutes due to the limitations of batteries and weight. The prototype, which will be showcased at CES 2016 in a few weeks, extends drones' range by providing longer flights times and making it a quick ordeal to refuel (compared to battery charging, that is).

This hydrogen prototype is described as "ultra lightweight," and it works in conjunction with a battery to extend a drone's flight range up to several hours. When the fuel cell runs low, the refueling process takes about two minutes, whereas recharging a battery takes an hour or longer, excluding select fast charging technology.

The company cites commercial drone usage possibilities that expand with such range boosts; though drones themselves could be — and are — used for many things, they can't travel too far from home and can't stay in the sky too long. Uses include aerial photography, delivering items to remote locations, more precise agriculture, inspections, and more.

Intelligent Energy says it has tested both fuel cell-battery hybrid systems and sole fuel cell systems with drones over the last 14 months; in the case of aerial photography, the systems didn't result in unsteady imagery. Said Julian Hughes, a director with the company, "Given we also have the ability to tailor solutions to customer requirements, this could completely revolutionize the potential of drone technology."