• Ben Popper - the verge.com

Hydrogen fuel cells promise to keep drones flying for hours


The use of drones by consumers and companies has exploded over the past few years. As the devices have soared in popularity, a lot of the critical features and functions have rapidly improved.

The aircraft have gotten steadily cheaper, more powerful, and easier to use. The cameras have gotten better while also getting much smaller. The autonomous navigation has evolved by leaps and bounds. One thing that has not changed much, however, is battery life.

Today Intelligent Energy, a British company specializing in hydrogen power, announced that it has created a fuel cell optimized for small drones. By adding a hydrogen fuel cell onto a typical battery, the company says it can extend flight times from around 20 minutes to over two hours. And because the unit can be recharged with compressed hydrogen, refueling a depleted cell can be accomplished in a few minutes, instead of the 40 minutes to an hour it takes to recharge a typical drone battery.

Intelligent Energy says it has tested the system on generic quadcopters equipped with cameras for the past 14 months. It experimented with a unit carrying only a hydrogen fuel cell and one with a hybrid of fuel cell and battery. It plans to offer the first public demonstrations of these units at CES in January. The company has built versions of its fuel cell to power planes, scooters, and cell towers. It more recently began experimenting in the consumer electronics space, crafting a cellphone battery that could provide a week of power on a single charge.

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