A team of researchers at the University of Southern Denmark has succeeded in creating a self-charging drone that can recharge itself by clinging to a power line. Logically, the technology is ideally suited for drones that have to inspect long, high-voltage routes, but other applications are also on the horizon.
Self-charging drone on the go
Although the flight time of (multirotor) drones has improved considerably in recent years – a flight time of one hour on a single battery charge is no longer uncommon – the limited battery capacity is still a bottleneck when it comes to missions over longer distances. Think of inspecting miles of high-voltage lines: it is not convenient for a drone to keep returning because the battery is running out.
Scientists at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) thought that a drone could easily charge itself on the way from such a high-voltage line. That way, the self-charging drone would not have to return to base for a fresh battery charge. This would not only benefit the inspections of high-voltage lines, but other applications are also conceivable.
Under the name Drones4Energy, a coalition of companies and research institutions was formed that jointly investigate how drone swarms can be used to support work on the more than 7,000 km long high-voltage routes in Denmark. Charging on a high-voltage line was only one of the objectives; It is also being examined whether drones can make physical contact with infrastructure to place sensors.
Recently, the self-charging drone was tested for the first time on a 150 kV connection in the Danish city of Odense.
“We have now shown that we can land on a (power) line and charge directly,” SDU researcher Emad Samuel Malki Ebeid told The Mayor. “This means we can have swarms of autonomous drones place sensors and inspect the wires. Now they have to be disconnected and inspected by people using elevators and helicopters.”
The use of drones for the maintenance of electricity facilities is not only being investigated in Denmark. For example, the American power supplier, Florida Power & Light (FPL) will be deploying autonomous drones on a large scale to monitor high-voltage substations and power distribution networks throughout the state of Florida. China has experimented with a flame-throwing drone that burns debris from power lines. And in the Netherlands, a drone was already used a few years ago to help pull a lightning wire between high-voltage pylons.
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