Application of Photovoltaic Cells to Increase Drone Flight Time

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Supervisor:
Dr. Hamar János Krisztián
Department of Automation and Applied Informatics

Since the last century, drones (both fixed-wing and rotor-based) are one of the main foundations of the modern warfare. These fast, light and highly manoeuvrable aircrafts can perform multiple different tasks without a pilot on board.

Although the military usage of this vehicles is significant, since 2012, the application field of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles has been continuously growing both in the public and the private sector. The technology needed to develop and operate such an aerial system is wildly and commercially available on most parts of the world. As a result of this, Civilian UAVs now vastly outnumber military ones with their rapidly expanding commercial use (agricultural, scientific, product delivery, surveillance).

Almost all applications have the same limit (both in the military and public sector), the flight time. Most of the fixed-wing aircrafts use batteries and electrical components to store and use energy to operate. To overcome the problems caused by the limited power capacity of the on-board accumulators, some kind of energy generation system must be built in. With the use of solar power, the range of these aircrafts can be increased dramatically. The surface of the wings is a perfect place for the photovoltaic cells because it’s always facing towards the sun and has a big enough area to generate significant amount of power.

The current project focuses on the viability of such a solar powered system in a radio-controlled plane. In the first part, the already existing military and commercial alternatives are detailed and compared. The main subject of this document is the development of a light weight, radio-controlled solar powered plane, that is capable of completing simple tasks, that require extended range and flight time. Both the structural (materials of the plane and wing, the surface area) and the required electrical components, such as the ESC (Electronic Speed Controller), motor, battery, the solar panel, solar charge controller and the on-board control unit, will be analysed. The control system on the aircraft contains a power management controller, which helps to increase the flight time with the supervision and regulation of the energy consumption and generation in order to maximize range and flight time of the plane.

As the closure of the study, the viability and the further improvements of this system will be analysed based on the data measured.

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