Unmanned aerial vehicles are starting to offer commercial applications such as industrial inspection, construction analytics, and agriculture monitoring, but the lack of a long battery life often means that flight times are reduced while the system recharges or a battery can be swapped.
While tethered drones, such as those from CyPhyWorks, offer power and communications capabilities, the tether can sometimes limit mobility for these applications. For untethered drones, achieving a longer flight time requires a fuel-based power source.
In addition, the space has been dominated by Chinese companies, including DJI, the acknowledged market leader in the high-end drone space, often used by commercial and industrial applications.
One company attempting to challenge the “impossible” in terms of a longer battery life and having a drone manufactured in the U.S. is Impossible Aerospace. The company recently announced raising $9.4 million in Series A funding, and launched the US-1, an electric commercial-grade drone with a flight time of up to two hours.
The US-1 has been designed from the ground up to be electric, leveraging its energy source that doubles as its primary structure. Impossible Aerospace said the US-1 will be available for delivery later this year.
Robotics Business Review recently chatted with the company’s CEO, Spencer Gore, about the company, the new US-1 drone, and its plans for the new funding:
Merging design with power requirements
Q: What was the motivation behind starting the company and developing the US-1?
Gore: It all started out when I was scratching my head at Tesla. How could you have an electric car drive on a charge but no one could make a drone fly longer than 20 minutes?
As I started looking at the commercial drone industry, I saw three needs that weren’t being met by existing platforms – flight time to last the length of critical missions, data security, and an affordable price point. We set out to solve these pain points through the development of the US-1.
Q: Was there an “aha!” moment when someone figured out how to achieve this two-hour battery life by designing the batteries inside the drone?
Gore: We started by asking ourselves, ‘If you’re trying to make this battery fly for as long as possible, how would we shape it? How would we build it? And how do we add on as little material as possible after that?’ It took us in a completely different design direction where what we’re left with is quite a bit more of a flying battery than it is a drone with a battery inside of it.
Q: Why are you calling the company “Impossible Aerospace”?
Gore: When we started telling people that we were going to make a two-hour drone utilizing existing battery technology, a lot of people told us it was impossible. We considered that our challenge.
Q: The market for industrial-level drones are dominated by companies like DJI, Yuneec, and a few others. How do you plan on competing against these larger companies?
Gore: Our customers have asked for a drone that flies for a really long time, made by an American company. We have provided just that.
Q: In what markets/applications do you see the biggest growth potential for the use of industrial drones? How do you stay focused on selling to those markets?
Gore: Domestic markets. The US-1 is well suited for surveillance when it comes to police, fire and search/rescue.
Made in America
Q: Why is it important that each US-1 will be engineered/assembled in the U.S.?
Gore: Data security is of utmost importance to our public safety customers. Ensuring that data stays within the USA is top priority for our team.
Q: Do you anticipate that the US-1 would be able to fly autonomously – either through your own development, or through software additions from third-parties, so that the drone could achieve beyond-line-of-sight flight?
Gore: We utilize QGroundControl today to plan autonomous missions. This is an important feature for many line of sight missions. We will see how the industry changes should BVLOS regulations change in the near future. We have some ideas.
Q: Beyond the battery power design changes, were there any other design elements that make the US-1 stand out from other drones?
Gore: We make our own powertrain, motors, and have even developed our own battery management system that is automotive grade.
Q: What are your plans for the funding now that you’ve raised the $9.4 million in Series A?
Gore: We will be scaling production for the US-1 and developing new future products.