Florida startup Undefined Technologies says it has taken a major step in developing a drone it believes could transform the entire thriving UAV service industry by using quieter, powerful ionic propulsion systems instead of rotors to power UAVs be used.
Undefined Technologies says it hit a testing milestone this month with a 4.5-minute flight of its ionic-powered drone while emitting just 75 dB of noise. This attempt marked further advances in the company’s development of the approach, increasing the time in the air over previous excursions while reducing the noise levels generated.
If successful, the advancement of ion propulsion is seen as a potential boost for various types of drone service providers — particularly air delivery companies — by lowering the associated noise levels, which consumers have consistently pointed to as one of their greatest resistances to UAV activity.
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The company’s original proof-of-concept aircraft last year flew for just 25 seconds while emitting 90 dB of noise. This month’s trial brought Undefined Technologies closer to its project goal for ionic propulsion of a 15-minute drone flight at just 70dB of noise – roughly the equivalent of a DJI Mavic, albeit from a larger vehicle aiming to carry significantly heavier payloads.
“We have been on this upward trend for almost a full year, working hard to solve many technical challenges related to aircraft cooling systems, battery life, avionics and noise reduction technologies,” said Tomas Pribanic, CEO of Undefined Technologies. “This milestone secures our vision of making ion propulsion technology usable for use in atmospheric conditions. I am incredibly proud of our highly dedicated team who have worked tirelessly to bring our breakthrough to the next phase of development.”
Without getting caught in the quickly wobbly weeds, ionic propulsion systems work by forcing charged particles, or ions, through pairs of electrodes, creating a sort of electric wind to propel the vehicle. Until recently, the technology was mostly limited to spacecraft, which – thanks to the amplifying effect of the surrounding vacuum – produced more powerful and longer-lasting energy than chemical alternatives.
Efforts to use it to power aircraft on Earth have had very limited flight results on generally small aircraft intended to be as light as possible.
The challenge before Undefined Technologies is therefore to develop an ionic propulsion solution for drones that not only take off, land and stay aloft by vertical force, but also carry payloads, navigation and communication equipment and other technologies that add additional weight to the Vehicle.
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Due to the relatively wide surfaces that grid-like ion propulsion systems require, Undefined Technology’s drone is a comparatively large and somewhat limp vehicle that the company recently encased in an outer shell.
There’s still work to be done before the test UAV realizes the technology’s stronger, quieter potentials over propellers, but officials believe they’re on target to have a production-ready mass-produced drone for delivery purposes in 2024.
“This more than 4-minute flight required advances in battery chemistry that can now give us higher energy densities,” said Thomas Benda Jr., the company’s principal aerospace engineer. “This improvement is part of our effort to target lighter weights.”
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