Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) startups Iris Automation and Drone America have signed agreements with Doosan Mobility Innovation (DMI) for hydrogen fuel cell technology.
The announcements took place at CES 2022 with the goal being to enable UAS for long-range autonomous beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations.
Under the agreements, the companies will integrate technologies and share resources to test and evaluate drone aircraft platforms and infrastructure to support commercial BVLOS operations.
BVLOS allows drone operators to conduct complex drone operations where the device flies beyond a point where the operator can see it. This could be through a camera attached to the drone or for autonomous flight operations without a pilot. While some companies are currently testing BVLOS using 4G wireless networks, the advent of 5G, the next-generation wireless technology, may accelerate the development of BVLOS as the technology would allow for intelligent identification and tracking of objects through cloud computing. One such project has already started with Ericsson and Australian telecom Optus conducting the first teleoperated drone flight.
Benefits of hydrogen
Hydrogen-based drones potentially could expand how far and how long drone operations can be conducted for both commercial and public flight operations.
Hydrogen is a higher density over traditional lithium-ion batteries and are zero emissions. Lithium battery-operated drones are mostly used in UAS flights today, but these produce carbon emissions and have limited range and capacity, Doosan said. Fossil fuel-based drones can have a longer range but produce carbon emissions and environmental noise.
Hydrogen fuel cells have up to four times the lifetime of lithium batteries and are produced using 100% renewable energy and they only emit water vapor.
“The potential of hydrogen fuel cell drone technology that delivers the endurance and performance necessary to enable autonomous UAV flight, without carbon emissions, is huge,” said Soonsuk Roh, manager of Americas and Oceania business development at DMI.
Iris Automation made strides in testing drones for BVLOS operations in 2021 by joining the Canada Pathfinder Program, designed to accelerate adoption of long range UAS uses through training, approvals, support and engineering.
Iris was also selected by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to offer recommendations for safe, scalable and economically viable BVLOS flights.
Finally in 2021, Iris partnered with Swoop Aero to develop new solutions for long range UAS flights in Australia.