We’ve heard about fully solar-powered cars and even yachts, but here’s a solar drone that can seemingly remain airborne for several hours. A Spanish company called UAV Instruments developed a fixed-wing UAV with solar panels for wings to help sustain longer flights. It has an array of high-efficiency solar panels on its detachable wings. Additionally, the Cies 2.2 has an incredible list of features that makes it a great survey tool.
Survey-Grade Solar Drone
Photogrammetry and GIS applications are resource-intensive tasks. Especially when looking at large-scale projects such as solar farm inspections or precision agriculture, conventional drones cannot complete data collection in a single flight. Thanks to the integrated solar panels, the Cies 2.2 can cover a jaw-dropping 1000 HA on a single flight. That’s an insane amount of area on a single flight. To put into perspective, this drone can reportedly fly over 2471 football fields in a single flight (under ideal sunlight conditions, of course).
Features of the Cies 2.2
- Catapult take-off and automatic parachute landing
- PPK module for centimeter accuracy
- Autonomous flight mode
- Advanced fail-safe options
- 120 minutes of minimum autonomy (max. 10 hours)
- 28 high-performance solar cells providing 48 Wh that can offer 8* extra hours of autonomy. (* solar radiation index 8)
- Flight capability over rugged and remote terrain
- Wind resistance of up to 50km/h
- IP43 rain and dust resistant
- The control station is powered by 128 GB Windows Surface 4 Pro for easy operation
- Maximum flight speed of 80km/h
- Maximum payload is 500g
- Working range of 15km (expandable up to 100)
As per the above-mentioned specifications, the Cies 2.2 is a powerful UAV. From a compact design to endurance, it puts out some impressive numbers. The PPK module enables the drone to geotag images, thereby, resulting in extremely accurate data. This saves time during image processing. UAV Instruments offers three different payload options: a 20.1 MP RGB camera, Micasense Rededge, or Micasense Altum.
Here’s a video by the company demonstrating the use of the Cies 2.2:
The Cies 2.2 has incredible endurance and wind resistance. At least on paper. It can fly for up to 8 hours and cover a thousand hectares of land area. The question is, If solar drones are so efficient why isn’t everyone using them? There have been several attempts to develop solar-powered drones, but none of them have caught mainstream attention. There are a couple of reasons for that.
Shortcomings of Solar Power
Firstly, the Cies has a payload capacity of 500g. This is one of the major roadblocks for solar drones. The solar-laden wings along with onboard electronics make the drone quite heavy. The Cies 2.2 weighs 3.5 kgs without the payload. This leaves little room for a useful payload. In a lot of missions, operators need to mount more than one sensor on the drone for variable data capture. This wouldn’t be possible on this solar drone due to its weight constraints.
The second problem the solar drone runs into is efficiency. On paper, the drone has proven to be quite the behemoth. However, under real-world conditions, this is difficult to achieve. Having solar panels does give endurance a boost but solar conditions vary a lot and are unpredictable. The company mentions that the drone can achieve 8 hour flight time under ideal conditions, which is described as having a solar radiation index (UV index) of 8.
A UV index of 8 is a very high radiation index that not many regions experience. Moreover, UV index changes throughout the day. In the early hours, the index is quite low. For example, in Dallas, Texas, the closest the UV index comes to is 7 (between 1 PM to 2 PM). This can change based on cloud cover, rain, or other environmental changes. Therefore, practically, ideal solar conditions are hard to come by.
As of now, solar drones can only operate in highly limited areas with specific requirements. For solar-powered drones to go mainstream, our solar technology would have to drastically advance. If solar panels could hypothetically achieve an efficiency greater than 25%, then maybe we could get better practical results. Either way, solar drones remain a fascinating concept and the Cies 2.2 is proof that solar power is the future.