Engineers are constantly pushing the boundaries when it comes to how drones are built and used. This has opened up a world of opportunities for drones. About a decade ago, drones were tools regulated to the military, scientific experiments, and DIY hobbyists. While drones are still heavily used in those fields, they have broken into mainstream commercialism as well. The drone industry is one of the fastest growing markets with applications in countless enterprises. And while advancements in drone technology have made them easier to use, one major obstacle has been physically holding drones back, which is their limited flight times.
The majority of drones can only be flown for 20-30 minutes before their batteries need to be replaced or recharged. The reason for this is because the ratio of the drone and the battery have to be relative to one another. One of the main goals in drone design is to keep them small and lightweight. The smaller the drone, the smaller the battery needs to be. The length of flight time a battery can give is directly proportional to the size of the battery and the drone. For many drone operators, this is merely an annoyance, having to keep spare batteries on hand. But for drones to eventually be used for tasks such as delivery vehicles, they will need to have longer flight times.
To solve the issue of a drone being dependent on a battery relative to its size, some engineers have begun to develop hybrid drones. Hybrid drones still rely on a battery, but they also receive additional support from a secondary power source. In October of 2020, a collaboration between Spanish drone manufacturer Quaternium and EFI (Electric Fuel Injector) specialists also from Spain, Löweheiser, set a new record for the longest drone flight. In 2019, JL Cortex founded Quaternium to come up with a drone that could break the boundaries of flight time. His vision came to fruition with the HYBRiX drone, a commercial grade long endurance drone.
The HYBRiX can achieve longer flight because of the revolutionary fuel injection system designed by Löweheiser. Since 2018, Löweheiser has been perfecting an EFI that could support the small engines needed for drones. Weighing less than 1.5oz, the Löweheiser system is made up of an EFI controller, throttle body, and a fuel pump. It does not need a fuel pressure regulator to function which allows the system to be small enough to support a drone without compromising power. As explained on Löweheiser’s website, “There are many advantages in using a fuel injection engine with respect to the carburetor system: There is no need to adjust the needles of the carburetor, since the EFI automatically adapts to atmospheric changes. Fuel consumption is reduced and the engine reliability is significantly increased.”
Previously the HYBRiX drone had set a record with a flight time of 8 hours and 10 minutes. With the Löweheiser fuel injection system, HYBRiX was able to break that record with a continuous flight time of 10 hours and 14 minutes. Before the trial began, Quaternium made several adjustments to the HYBRiX to accommodate the EFI and a longer flight time. These updates enhanced the drone’s propulsion system that was critical for success. The two teams sent the newly remodeled HYBRiX2.0 hybrid drone up in the air at 8:20 in the morning. The drone was set to hover over a safety net while teams from both companies observed every minute of the experiment. Löweheiser monitored the EFI’s parameters, relaying data to the Quaternium pilots that made adjustments necessary to achieve the record breaking flight time.
For many drone pilots, there isn’t a need for a drone with such a long flight time. Micro and small drones like those built by Intel and DJI do just fine with short flights and replacement batteries. But for many commercial enterprises like agriculture, inspection, or delivery, a long endurance hybrid drone can fill a major gap. As Quaternium stated in a release, “Multicopters are the preferred aerial platform for aerial applications, but their limited endurance makes them useless for many commercial missions. HYBRiX technology overcomes the primary limitation of multirotor drones, which is limited flight time.” With a hybrid drone that can fly upwards of 10 hours, the application possibilities could be endless.