A new electric drone from Impossible Aerospace can fly more than four times as long as other battery-powered drones, the company announced today, potentially bringing the world closer to fully electric passenger aircraft.
The new unmanned vehicle, dubbed the US-1, is a quadcopter that is “essentially just one big flying battery,” says Spencer Gore, founder and CEO of Sunnyvale, Calif.–based Impossible Aerospace.
“Most drones are designed with the philosophy that once you are done figuring out the payload and propulsion, you add the battery pack,” Gore says. “Instead, from the very beginning, we designed a battery pack that was meant to fly.”
Gore’s research into electric aircraft stemmed largely from his experience working on electric cars at Tesla Motors. “It never made sense to me that it was possible to have a battery-powered car that could drive more than 300 miles but not have a battery-powered drone that could fly more than about 20 minutes,” he says.
The US-1 is about 66 centimeters long and 66 cm wide, with an unladen mass of 6.43 kilograms. It can reach speeds of more than 68 kilometers per hour, and can fly more than 75 kilometers before recharging. It is designed and assembled entirely in the United States due to concerns over privacy and national security.
The new drone uses lithium-ion batteries that can reach an 80 percent state of charge in 40 minutes. “The battery pack forms part of the structural frame,” Gore says. “It has no conventional rods or beams that carry loads.”
The US-1 can fly for 2 hours on a single charge, making it on par with gasoline-fueled systems. In comparison, the industry average flight time for battery-powered drones is about 25 minutes, the company says.
Photo: Impossible Aerospace
The new drone is rated to support up to 2 kg of payload. This may include optical cameras such as the Sony R10C and Sony QX30C, thermal cameras such as the FLIR Duo Pro R, multispectral sensors such as the Slantrange 3p or Micasense RedEdge-M and survey cameras such as the Mapir Survey 3, the company says.
Impossible Aerospace has already sold prelaunch units to firefighters, police departments, and search-and-rescue teams across the United States. “There is a lot of potential for high-endurance drones to find lost people, deliver critical medical supplies and find hot spots in fires,” Gore says.
A number of companies are pursuing electric passenger aircraft, such as Zunum Aero and Wright Electric. The strategy of designing electric aircraft around their batteries is critical if they are ever to carry passengers and cargo, Gore says. “Our business model is to push the envelope of reliability and performance in the hopes of scaling to aircraft that can carry people and be certified to do so,” Gore says.
The US-1 is Impossible Aerospace’s first product and launches it out of stealth mode. The company, founded in 2016, has received US $9.4 million in Series A funding, bringing the total it has raised so far to more than $11 million.
The US-1 will be available for delivery in late 2018, with prices starting at $7,500.
Charles Q. Choi is a science reporter who contributes regularly to IEEE Spectrum. He has written for Scientific American, The New York Times, Wired, and Science, among others.