It’s not something at the forefront of your mind we bet, but when buying a drone it’s worth considering how it’s powered. Understanding the different power sources, accessories, and associated flight times is essential to make sure you’re buying the right drone for the job. After all, if you need a long flight time for surveys but your battery only covers 15 minutes, you could be in trouble!
We might not yet have reached the point where drones can recharge themselves on power lines (except of course for this MIT genius’ prototype), but knowing how to get the most out of your drone power will be useful when calculating when it’s time to return your UAV to base.
Most commercial UAVs use a lithium-based battery to power the motors and electronics. Some larger and more niche models can use a fuel cell, providing greater distance and flight time, but these are very expensive and heavy.
There are two types of lithium battery for drones: lithium-ion (Li-ion) and lithium-polymer (LiPo). Unlike older battery types based on nickel (nickel-cadmium NiCads or nickel-metal hydride NiMHs), lithium batteries don’t self-discharge as rapidly, giving them a longer charge life. This means you could charge a LiPo battery and leave it on the shelf for a month, seeing only around a 1% drop in a full charge – unlike a nickel battery which would be dead by this point!
A lithium battery is the same as you’d find in a laptop or your smartphone. Simple, contained, and providing high power for a low weight, they’re ideal for UAVs.
Some batteries are removable for charging, while other models will have an integrated battery that charges directly from a wall power outlet. The only real difference here is whether something is replaceable: integrated batteries are often larger, more powerful, and have a longer shelf life (especially as integration into the body means less chance of water damage), but cannot be replaced.
That’s why the majority of commercial models allow for replaceable batteries. The clear advantage here as well is that you can buy additional batteries and ensure they’re all fully charged: you won’t have to return your drone to a charging station between each flight!
It is absolutely essential for safety and to protect the life of your lithium battery that you use the recommended charger for the battery type and model.
You may find it useful to invest in a multiple-battery charger if you’re planning on stocking up on fully-charged batteries for your drone flights. While many will take three times as long to charge three batteries (making no time saving at all!), some are intelligent hubs that reduce charging time and don’t risk damage to the battery.
Your drone’s flight time is predominantly affected by two things: the power and capacity of the battery, and the combined weight of the UAV and additional payload. The heavier the drone, the shorter the flight time.
If you want your UAV to fly longer, look into upgrading your LiPo battery to a more powerful one to get some precious extra minutes in the sky!
As well as your drone, you’ll need to charge your controller! It’s worth factoring this in when looking at the best drone to buy for your business, as the controller battery life needs to match that of the flight time of your UAV – and then some, especially if you’re using multiple batteries for a Long Day Out Of Flying Fun. Keep an eye out for the next in our series of Drones 101 where we’ll be considering the best types of controller for your drone!