New Technology Powers Drones Wirelessly

October 09, 2016 by Donald Krambeck

Research from the Imperial College of London powers drones without weighing them down with batteries.

Research from the Imperial College of London may help conquer the classic drone conundrum—how can you power a drone without weighing it down with a battery?

Longer Drone Flight Times (without Additional Weight)

Most drones you can buy normally have an operation time of around 10 to 40 minutes depending on the size of the drone and the capacity of the battery. Ideally, one wants to extend the flight operation time without adding on too much weight to the drone, which would result in a shorter flight time. This is a problem that drone operators have been facing for quite some time. It's also interested some researchers in finding a solution.

Dr. Samer Aldhaher, a research associate at the Imperial College of London working with the Wireless Power Lab has been researching wireless power transfer systems with the aim of powering a drone through wireless charging. It isn't magic; the drone receives the power required to take off, operate, and charge itself from a charging block directly beneath it. His paper, published by IEEE and co-written by David C. Yates and Paul D. Mitcheson, details the construction of the Class EF2 inverter used in the tech.

While this is a huge leap in what could be the next powering method of flying drones,  there are still quite a few missing pieces to get this technology working on a greater scale. 

After watching the video, you might notice that the drone is restricted to only hovering over the wireless power transmitter below it. Dr. Aldhaher has figured out how to get it operational wirelessly, but only for about five inches above the power transmitter base. If the drone flies out of the transmitting range, it will lose its power and shut off.

Nevertheless, this is a spectacular feat of overcoming the need for on-board batteries. Below is a picture of Aldhaher's setup of both the drone and the power transmitter.


Screenshot courtesy of Samer Aldhaher.


The EF Inverter

Now that you have a basic understanding of the concept, let's look a little further in-depth of how this concept actually works.

The transmitting loop that is labeled as "transmitter PCB coil" is actually etched onto a printed circuit board, hence the name PCB. From an outlet or power generator, power is converted into high-frequency alternating current (AC) by the transmitter. From there, this high-frequency AC flows into the transmitter coil and will generate an oscillating magnetic field.


The EFinverter's circuitry including the top side (top left), bottom side (top right), and rectifiers for the 6.78MHz class (bottom left) and 27.12MHz class (bottom right). Image courtesy of IEEE Xplore.


Here is the awesome part: The magnetic field is transferred into the air and will induce into the receiver coil. Once the energy from the magnetic field induces AC into the receiver coil, it is then that it can be converted back into direct current (DC) by the receiver. The DC power can then provide power to the device—the drone, in this case.

Copper is an excellent conductor of electricity because the valence electrons are free and repel each other very strongly, enough that it will cause repulsion of other electrons. Essentially, the electricity is forced down the piece of copper. 

While it won't allow you to fly a far distance, this technology opens up a new window of opportunity for what's to come. Despite only flying five inches above the power transmitter, there's a lot of complex circuitry infrastructure involved in getting this drove to fly without requiring onboard batteries.

If strides in wireless charging continue on this level—from both academics like Professor Aldhaher and from drone enthusiasts—I'm sure it won't be long before this technology at our disposal.

  • roadey_carl October 13, 2016

    whats the efficiency? Does it change the higher the drone gets from the transmitter?

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      billbucket October 21, 2016
      It's peak efficiency is 71%, according to the paper. That's at one specific distance (depending on frequency) and with perfect coil alignment on all six axes. And yes, it changes with distance. It's worth pointing out that the drone was a gimmick, the research here was for a fixed distance power transfer scheme.
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  • xKoldFuzionx October 21, 2016

    OK, maybe my understanding is not very deep, but in order to create a magnetic field strong enough and big enough to power a drone in flight does not seem like a very valid option, or very safe. Magnetic fields can disrupt the body and mind. Look at old houses and old wiring. High levels of EMF can cause side effects including, but not limited to hallucinations. I just don’t see this as being possible to do, regardless of anything else. As shown here, they can only get 5” of height, you’d be better off designing better battery technology and more efficient power supplies/electronics to really make a difference in flight times.

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      billbucket October 21, 2016
      Inductive transfer of power is the same thing happening inside those power adapters you plug into the wall. Or, a better example might be a wirelessly charged cell phone. It's perfectly safe on this scale. The idea is to provide unlimited flight time, a better battery can never provide that. That's like asking for a faster car instead of building an airplane. Also, to correct some of your shallow understanding, old houses or wiring don't generate EMF capable of causing hallucinations in humans.
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    jjustin October 21, 2016

    The circuitry is interesting but the concept is bit ludicrous.

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      AdeV October 21, 2016
      On the contrary. A company I used to work for did several experiments (some years ago now) with electric buses, which were recharged using an induction loop in every bus stop - so every time it pulled in to let people off/on, it got a battery top-up. The concept worked well, but for reasons best known to someone else, they used milk-float technology, limting the smallish buses to around 20mph flat out.
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  • rfagen October 21, 2016

    Good question on the efficiency. What if instead of an EM field it was a laser with a PV cell on the bottom of the drone? Would that be more efficient than induction? Then, if that works, investment could be made in a tracking mechanism that keeps the laser(s) pointed at the PV cell(s)—you’d want some kind of redundancy.

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      billbucket October 21, 2016
      This was my thought too. But, I confess, I just want a high power laser turret on my roof. In reality though, the more practical version of this is to use a maser (microwave laser) and a rectenna.
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    chrisbaron October 21, 2016

    Tesla called.  He wants credit for this “new technology”.

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  • redrooster01 October 21, 2016

    For more powerful, longer lasting,lighter batterys. Checkout Robert Murray Smiths YouTube channel. His new DIY Hemp battery is just the thing for Quadcopters.

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  • sensacell March 21, 2017

    A click-bait article.
    Combine buzzwords “Drone” and “Wireless Power” with “New Technology” get lots of clicks!
    But really, nothing to see here, this is no breakthrough, the coil distance is less than one radius.

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