Alta Devices of Sunnyvale, California USA and PowerOasis of Swindon, UK are partnering to develop a reference design to integrate solar and lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery power systems for small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
According to the companies, the UAV reference design will combine the hybrid power systems expertise of Power Oasis with Alta Devices’ solar technology.
Solar power can add endurance to battery-powered UAVs that can normally stay aloft for only a few hours. Alta Devices asserts that with solar panels added to the wings, the same aircraft could fly all day. This increased flight time and range with Alta Devices’ thin, flexible, and efficient solar cells can enable tasks not previously possible.
According to Pete Bishop, CTO of PowerOasis, “Up until now, it’s been nearly impossible to develop a hybrid solar/Li-ion UAV architecture for small aircraft because the solar technology compromised the design too severely. That is no longer true with Alta Devices’ solar technology.”
Design Offers UAV Energy Generation, Storage, and Power Management
An aircraft designer will be able to utilize the reference design to manage the entire energy generation, storage, and power management system for a winged UAV. Potential applications for the UAVs with extended flight times include long range search and rescue operations, infrastructure inspection over long distances, communications infrastructure provisioning to underserved locations, and precision agriculture on industrial farms.
This reference design will work for winged aircraft, but it cannot serve helicopter or quadcopter UAVs.
The reference architecture will target UAVs with 2-4 meter (6.5-13 feet) wingspan UAVs that use 5s-7s Li-ion batteries.
A flexible battery vendor agnostic, battery management system (BMS) will manage battery packs. Critical power and payload systems will have conditioned power outputs. Also, communication with the ground control and an onboard autopilot will provide continuous real-time power and energy data.
The companies plan to release the reference design in late 2017.