By Vamien McKalin
Each year, drone technology improves a great deal, but there are still some important features missing from drones that might take several more years to get implemented. One of these missing aspects is the ability for a drone to stay in the sky for days.
Not long ago, the U.S. Air Force launched a program challenging young minds to create a drone that could stay airborne for five days. This drone needed to have solar technology to give it power, but as it turned out, solar was not the ideal technology for this type of drone.
MIT students took to the challenge
This is not a combat drone
Several students from MIT formed teams in a bid to create the perfect drone for the U.S. Air Force. As time went by, all teams abandoned the solar energy plan and chose to go with what works best for now.
The drone created is called the Jungle Hawk Owl, and it is powered by gasoline. The team isn’t thrilled with having to use gas over solar, but it works best. Furthermore, to create a drone with solar included, the team would have to build a larger aircraft, and that’s not on the cards.
Not only that, solar isn’t recommended during the winter due to shortened daylight hours. Until someone manages to improve solar technology, all drones with the requirement to stay airborne for days might require gasoline or a massive battery.
“It’s true that it’s less appealing to be running on gasoline [than solar],” said Professor Warren Hoburg in a statement to TechCrunch. “But building the solar airplane would be a big boondoggle. With the design we chose, we’ve already had a first flight. It was easy to build and compared to the other aircraft available, and the cost and fuel consumption are really low. We spent more fuel getting to the launch site than flying the airplane for three days.”
When building the device, the team used Kevlar and fiber as the primary building blocks. In the end, the drone weighed 55 pounds, and 150 pounds with a full tank of gas and payload. Interestingly enough, the drone has a modular design. The Air Force can quickly pull it apart for the sake of sending it overseas.
Folks should realize the Jungle Hawk Owl is not a combat drone, but rather a device for assisting areas suffering from disasters. Additionally, the team believes its drone can be used by the likes of Google and Facebook to bring internet access to rural areas around the world.
It will likely take years before the Jungle Hawk Owl goes into full production. Whenever this happens, though, it could be that solar power technology is hitting its stride.