Transportation drones have been making the buzz lately. Since Chinese company Ehang unveiled their first-ever personal drone taxi, vehicular drones are coming to light every day. From Dubai to the Philippines, inventors in every country are developing innovative ways of drone transportation. A Massachusetts based company, Alaka’i Technologies, unveiled a full-scale model of the first hydrogen-powered drone on 29th May in Southern California. However, the German company, BMW, was also a part of this project and their unit handled the craft’s design. The drone is named as ‘Skai’ and is the first flying vehicle to be powered by hydrogen fuel-cells.
World’s first hydrogen-powered vehicle
Drones are known to be zero-emission vehicles as they’re mostly powered by lithium-ion batteries. However, these electrically powered vehicles cannot sustain long flights. Their flight time is limited to 30-60 minutes. Skai comprises of a different fuel system which is not only eco-friendly but also promises an astounding range for the drone. Hydrogen cells have been tested to be very efficient and long-lasting as compared to lithium-ion batteries.
Skai is a six-rotor drone, with six hydrogen fuel cells-one for each rotor engine. This design is said to give the drone up to 400 miles (643 Km) of range. This drone is designed for short urban hops or inter-city travel. The passenger hub of the drone resembles a modern-day SUV and can comfortably seat 5 passengers or carry a payload of up to 1000lbs (453 Kg). Cushioned by landing skids on the bottom, the six rotors protrude stylishly from the roof, giving the drone a very sleek look. The flight time of the drone is up to 4 hours which can be extended to 10+ hours with the help of auxiliary tanks. The company claims the drone’s top speed to be 118 mph (189.9 kph) but for local trips, the drone will likely fly at around 85 mph (136 kph).
To increase safety, Skai is equipped with a redundant autopilot system. Also, it contains a propulsion design that can fly even with the loss of one rotor. The drone also houses a parachute attached to its airframe. Although FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) rules will require a pilot operation, developers expect the vehicles ultimately will be flown autonomously by pre-programmed guidance systems. As an added benefit, the drone will host 5G Wifi for its passengers. All these features combined, Skai could be the ultimate future of drone transportation.
First Commercial flight could be in 2021
The zero-emission drone is a boon for Southern California, which has been facing a severe pollution problem. The drone which was displayed on 29th May was the only full-sized operational prototype made by the company.
Chief Executive Officer Steve Hanvey said that they expect to win FAA certification by late 2020 and the first aircraft could be available for sale in early 2021. After that, the company plans to ramp up production. Currently, the company is still in its experimental phase and will progress to commercial production by the beginning to 2021. The simplicity of the drone’s concept compared with traditional helicopters should ease in the FAA’s approval.
The company foresees Sakai’s future commercial production to reach up to 10,000 drones per year. The price of the drone, as stated by Hanvey, is expected to be equivalent of a luxury car. The drone will be built under three categories: as a taxi or personal flights, for emergency medical transport and for cargo delivery. The interior design may vary in either of the three but the working and concept will remain the same.