Inside Unmanned Systems

FEB-MAR 2018

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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ENGINEERING. PRACTICE. POLICY. 65 February/March 2018 unmanned systems inside service the fuel cell company Plug Power is al- ready starting to provide. Basically, for this to work, hydrogen has to be widely available at the right price point. "We need to get hydrogen in the hands of common citizens," Cronin of FlightWave Aerospace said. "There's no real infrastruc- ture unless you're a big gas provider. If you want to buy an industrial gas container there's a thousand ways to get it, but there's no way to go down to a local place to fill up yet. That's the biggest problem. We can build the best aircraft, but where do you get the hy- drogen for it?" One of the reasons manufacturers like working with diesel fuel and gas is because they have high energy density, Hayes said. Hydrogen doesn't have as much energy density, and its volume density makes it diff icult to store in a small space. "It's an interesting prob- lem," said Jeff Knapp, Chief Engineer of Insitu's Advanced Development Group. "How do you get the hydrogen to where you want to use it for UAS. That's really the crux of the problem. Our observation so far is the equip- ment works well, the airplane will work much better and the logistics cost to operate the UAS will be significantly lower. The one challenge is how do you handle the hydrogen." Looking to the Future Insitu is working to address the infrastructure issue by creating and storing hydrogen on site. The system they're developing would pass elec- tricity through water to produce hydrogen, and the produced hydrogen would be stored one of two ways: liquefied or as a high pressure gas. While this will provide a short-term solution for Insitu customers, the infrastructure prob- lem still needs to be solved on a broader scale, Hayes said. He doesn't think that will happen until we start seeing people regularly using hy- drogen to fuel their cars. Once that ecosystem is in place, UAS can tie into that. He also sees the industry gaining more interest in these sys- tems when they begin f lying over large urban areas routinely. Because fuel cells systems are more reliable than internal combustion en- gines, the risk for a UAS suddenly failing will be much less, which is vital when f lying over populated areas. Cronin believes hydrogen is simply a bet- ter product, and eventually will be the power source of choice in a variety of areas. That's already starting to happen, but until it's easier to get fuel, adoption will be slow. Companies that are researching and illustrating the ben- efits of hydrogen will help, but it's still going to take time to get more people on board with switching to hy- drogen and to get the neces- sary infrastructure in place. It's also important to work with other industries and re- searchers interested in using hydrogen as an alternative en- ergy source, Knapp said. They need to show that it's safe and reliable, and partner together to overcome the infrastructure barrier. While hydrogen will likely never completely replace lithium batteries or engines, it's a vi- able solution for those interested in alternative energy sources, and one that is already show- ing promise in the drone industry. "It's another option. As hydrogen becomes more mainstream I see it becoming more vi- able and interesting to people in this industry," Yearling said, noting that they're working on a second generation prototype to f ly on their PINC Air drones. "It's a lot greener than any- thing else from what we've seen. And when you're talking about longevity of f light, it's an order of magnitude more than a battery. These systems offer f light times that are a minimum two to three times longer than a battery." FOR MORE on how PINC is using drones to improve inventory management in warehouses, read "Robots in Retail" at RELATED STORIES ONLINE "IF YOU CAN EXTEND THE FLIGHT TIME YOU CAN ACTUALLY INCREASE THE PAYLOAD AS WELL." Julian Hughes, senior vice president, Intelligent Energy HYDROGEN POWERED Fuel Cell propulsion systems for drones

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