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Are we ready for drones in our skies?

03 Jul 2015  | Junko Yoshida

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1. How long can a drone fly?

DJI Inspire 1

DJI Inspire 1 comes with a high-capacity 4500mA battery based on lithium polymer. The battery brings the entire drone to 6.5lbs or 2.9kg, allowing typically 18 minutes of charged airtime.

What's the airtime of a drone? The simplest answer is, "it depends."

Some toy drones can only fly about five minutes. Other hobbyist drones can stretch flying time to 22 minutes with extra battery.

Drone designers face a balancing act between the size of the battery and the weight of a drone. The higher the battery capacity the heavier the drone, which ultimately limits flying time.

As they struggle to keep a drone as light as possible, designers are always seeking new durable materials and lightweight components.

A drone's flight time will be also affected by wind velocity, net weight of the load and the task of the flight. Depending on a drone's mission, sensors to gather intelligence and a brain to analyse the collected data onboard becomes necessary. Again, that also adds to payload and limits flight time.

When an engineer at CNRS (The French National Centre for Scientific Research) was asked about the challenges its own drones still face at the Paris Air Show last month, he said, "It's the autonomy of the battery. This one lasts only 15 minutes." Noting that the use of drones is often in the spotlight for "search and rescue" projects, he said, "Fifteen minutes isn't enough to find people in the forest."

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