Researchers at MIT have developed a gasoline powered drone with a 5 day flight time. The glider-like drone is designed to carry a communications payload that could establish a temporary telecommunications network for disaster relief.
The idea of using drones to establish temporary networks in disaster struck areas isn’t new; but most solutions are expensive to operate and could involve a relay system in order to maintain persistent coverage. With current US Airforce solutions, MIT News reports, “providing adequate and persistent coverage would require a relay of multiple aircraft, landing and refueling around the clock, with operational costs of thousands of dollars per hour, per vehicle.”
A team of MIT engineers has designed a drone “resembline a thin glider,” that provides a less expensive and longer endurance solution. “The vehicle can carry 10 to 20 pounds of communications equipment while flying at an altitude of 15,000 feet. Weighing in at just under 150 pounds, the vehicle is powered by a 5-horsepower gasoline engine and can keep itself aloft for more than five days — longer than any gasoline-powered autonomous aircraft has remained in flight,” says MIT News.
“The team is presenting its results this week at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Conference in Denver, Colorado. The team was led by R. John Hansman, the T. Wilson Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics; and Warren Hoburg, the Boeing Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Hansman and Hoburg are co-instructors for MIT’s Beaver Works project, a student research collaboration between MIT and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.”
Researchers were originally approached by the U.S. Air Force to design a long-duration drone powered by solar power; but the team soon discovered that the model didn’t work well for disaster relief. “[A solar vehicle] would work fine in the summer season, but in winter, particularly if you’re far from the equator, nights are longer, and there’s not as much sunlight during the day. So you have to carry more batteries, which adds weight and makes the plane bigger,” Hansman says. “For the mission of disaster relief, this could only respond to disasters that occur in summer, at low latitude. That just doesn’t work.”
“These vehicles could be used not only for disaster relief but also other missions, such as environmental monitoring. You might want to keep watch on wildfires or the outflow of a river,” Hansman adds. “I think it’s pretty clear that someone within a few years will manufacture a vehicle that will be a knockoff of this.”
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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