The US Army wants to build an autonomous drone charging system
The US Army wants to build an autonomous charging system that can support hundreds of drones. It has funded a four-year research project with the aim of equipping ground-based vehicles with charging stations that swarms of drones can fly to themselves.
The University of Illinois, Chicago, received a $ 8 million contract from the Army Research Laboratory of the Combat Capabilities Development Command. The researchers will be working on a system that will allow small drones to locate the nearest charging station, drive there, and juice it up before returning to their mission. The university is working on algorithms that the drones can use to determine the best route to a charging port.
"Imagine the army deploying a swarm of hundreds or thousands of unmanned aerial systems in the future," said Dr. Mike Kweon, program manager of the Army Research Laboratory's Versatile Research Program for Versatile Tactical Force and Propulsion, in a press release. "Each of these systems, with current battery technologies, only have approximately 26 minutes to complete a flight mission and return to their home before they run out of battery power. This means they all can potentially come back to replace their batteries at the same time."
Without the charging stations, soldiers would have to carry thousands of batteries on missions, which is really not a viable option. Using an autonomous charging system would also mean that soldiers would not have to manually swap batteries in order to free them up for other tasks.
Army-funded researchers will also develop mini fuel level sensors for larger drones. This would allow future drones, some of which could run on gasoline, to recognize when they are running out of fuel, according to DroneDJ. The devices could then return to base to refuel or recharge before they run out of juice.
"This research is critical not only for aircraft, but also for ground vehicles, especially army emissions," said Kweon. “The fuel sensor tells the operator what type of fuel is being delivered from the fuel tank to the engine. This input signal can be used to intelligently instruct the engine to adjust the engine control parameters according to the type of fuel in order to avoid errors. This data can also be used to find root cause faults when an engine component fails prematurely. "
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