EMERYVILLE (CBS SF) – A Bay Area startup aims to develop a “perpetual flight drone,” which can stay aloft for days, or even weeks at a time, using artificial intelligence to detect the thermal rises of the air.
Emeryville-based Kraus Hamdani Aerospace said it successfully completed a 26-hour non-stop flight earlier this year.
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Stefan Kraus, the co-founder and CTO, dismisses criticisms that pass off the effort as a mere science fiction speech.
âWe have the engineers, we have the science. We know what we’re doing, âKraus said. âBy the end of this year, you will. So by 2022, absolutely.
The company’s flagship drone, the K1000 Ultra Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial System, has a wingspan of 16 feet, but weighs just 15 pounds.
The large wings also provide a large area for the solar panels, which are used to recharge the battery. According to Kraus, the aircraft’s proprietary materials add strength and stiffness, but not weight.
To further reduce weight, the vehicle has no landing gear and instead stops on replaceable 3D printed plastic pads.
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âIt’s basically like my own child. For me, that’s it,â Kraus said.
Fatema Hamdani, the other co-founder and CEO, said the engineering and design teams drew inspiration from nature for long-duration flights.
According to Hamdani, the aircraft’s sensors seek thermals, rising pockets of hot air and shut off the engines to save energy. The motor blades then fold back to reduce drag, and the drone essentially transforms into a glider.
âSo we looked at birds, birds that fly long distances,â he said. âThey don’t constantly flap their wings. We’re constantly monitoring environmental conditions, algorithmically, and then feeding them back to autopilot so that we can optimize that. “
Hamdani hopes long-duration drone flights will enable technology to “change the world”, improving long-term surveillance or search and rescue operations. The company is also testing radio and cellular transmitters on board.
Being suspended in the air for long periods of time also has implications for climate research and 24/7 real-time monitoring of forest fires. Traditional manned flights over forest fires are often difficult and dangerous due to the smoke, and generally do not occur at night.
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âPersistent assets that fly nonstop, fully autonomously, in the most cost effective and efficient manner, can change the way we deal with disasters,â Hamdani said. âToday we are doing what people thought would never be possible. It’s a contribution, and we are all drops in the ocean helping to change the world.