Drones have made enormous progress in recent years. Computer vision technology has been steadily improving; obstacles can be detected and avoided; and autonomous flight systems have lowered the barrier to entry to anyone with a few hundred dollars to spend.
All of this has allowed aerial drones and their payloads – ranging from optical cameras to lidar sensors and thermal imaging systems – to begin providing solutions in challenging environments and at scale.
But despite the many advances in electric drone technology, the laws of physics remain a problem when it comes to keeping platforms airborne. The heavier a drone is, the more energy it needs to stay aloft, which itself creates a bigger payload: the battery.
As a result, manufacturers seeking to build manageable platforms that balance usability with size and power have hit a plateau of sorts, especially with rotary-wing craft. The invaluable ability to take off and land vertically comes with a significant energy cost.
Some multi-rotor electric drones can only stay in the air for around half an hour before a new battery/recharging is needed. For beyond visual line or sight (BVLOS) operations, that’s a massive challenge.
A new drone battery concept
Which is where Impossible Aerospace enters the picture. The California startup has announced its exit from stealth mode, a $9.4 million funding round, and a ready-to-go product: the US-1.
This electric drone has a flight time of up to two hours, beyond most of the solutions on the market – aside from hybrid models that rely partly on gasoline.
Instead of designing a drone able to fly while carrying a battery, the Impossible Aerospace team has effectively developed a battery that can fly – in their words, a “battery-first approach”.
Impossible Aerospace has already sold units equipped with optical and thermal sensors to firefighters, police departments, and search and rescue teams across America.
“The US-1 is more than just a drone. It’s the first aircraft designed properly from the ground up to be electric, using existing battery cells without compromise,” said Spencer Gore, CEO of Impossible Aerospace.
“It’s not so much an aircraft as it is a flying battery, leveraging an energy source that doubles as its primary structure. This is how electric aircraft must be built if they are to compete with conventional designs and displace petroleum fuels in aviation.”
Engineered and assembled in the US
Much has been made of the Chinese influence in the commercial and consumer drone industries. Shenzhen-based manufacturer DJI currently has a huge – and deserved – market share. But that has led some to worry that the proliferation of Chinese hardware across America could be a security concern.
Just last week at the InterDrone conference in Las Vegas, US-based 3DR partnered, ironically, with another Chinese manufacturer, Yuneec, to launch a commercial drone service for sensitive government operations.
“From both a cost and environmental standpoint, the future of aviation is electric,” said Greg Reichow of Eclipse Ventures. “We invested in Impossible Aerospace because of their thoughtful and systematic approach to re-thinking the fundamentals of electric aircraft.
“Our first product, the US-1, outperforms existing solutions in a market crying out for reliable, domestically-manufactured long-duration aircraft, while validating the technology required to build aircraft of the future.”
Internet of Business says
Although the new battery technology from Impossible Aerospace is the headline here, the company has confirmed that every US-1 will be engineered and assembled entirely in the US – hence the name, presumably.
That’s good news for any buyers actively seeking domestic alternatives to Chinese-developed drones – especially in a political climate in which tech companies are under pressure to repatriate manufacturing as the trade war rages.
However, Impossible Aerospace should bear in mind that it operates in a global market. Identifying products with US patriotism will doubtless play well at home, but it may not be a message that travels over long distances. It’s conceivable that ‘political BVLOS’ may prove to be as big a challenge as keeping drones in the air.