Ask Hackaday: Long Endurance Quadcopter

Quadcopters are useful little flying machines. They can be used in all sorts of applications, from mapping, to inspecting long pipelines, to border surveillance, or simply for fun. They all have one thing in common, however – a relatively short battery life. Because quadcopters use brute force to churn through the air, they require a lot of energy. More energy for longer flights means more batteries. More batteries means more weight to carry, which requires even more energy. If you want longer flight times, something has to change. Or does it?

A small start-up company called Horizon Unmanned Systems based out of Singapore claims their quadcopter can fly for up to four hours on a single charge, or up to two and a half hours carrying a 2.2 pound load. They claim to be able to pull this off with a novel approach. First, they fill the hollow frame of the quadcopter with hydrogen gas. They use that gas to power a cute little miniaturized fuel cell LiPo battery hybrid gizmo. And that’s about it. The rest is just standard quadcopter stuff.

The secret to all of this is the miniaturized fuel cell, and how it works. Unfortunately, this is as close as we’re going to get (pdf) for a datasheet. Fuel cells are nifty devices that take hydrogen and oxygen and convert them into water, along with electricity. While that sounds simple, making one is not. And making a miniature one light enough for a quadcopter is down right hard.

How would you increase the flight time of quadcopters? Fuel cells are a great idea, but is this technology within the reach of the modern hacker? We’ve seen people make them from scraps out of a junkyard, but how would you miniaturize it and make it light enough to be used as a practical power supply for a quadcopter?

Thanks to [Joseph Rautenbach] for the tip!

Retrotechtacular: The Future’s So Bright, We’re Gonna Need Photochromic Windowpanes

This is a day in the life of the Shaw family in the summer of 1999 as the Philco-Ford Corporation imagined it from the space-age optimism of 1967. It begins with Karen Shaw and her son, James. They’re at the beach, building a sand castle model of their modular, hexagonal house and discussing life. Ominous music plays as they return in flowing caftans to their car, a Ford Seatte-ite XXI with its doors carelessly left open. You might recognize Karen as Marj Dusay, who would later beam aboard the USS Enterprise and remove Spock’s brain.

The father, Mike Shaw, is an astrophysicist working to colonize Mars and to breed giant, hardy peaches in his spare time. He’s played by iconic American game show host Wink Martindale. Oddly enough, Wink’s first gig was hosting a Memphis-based children’s show called Mars Patrol. He went on to fame with classics such as Tic Tac Dough, Card Sharks, Password Plus, and Trivial Pursuit.

Mike calls up some pictures of the parent trees he’s using on a screen that’s connected to the family computer. While many of today’s families have such a device, this beast is almost sentient. We learn throughout the film that it micromanages the family within an inch of their lives by keeping tabs on their physiology, activities, financial matters, and in James’ case, education.

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Powering a RPi with Hydrogen

raspberryHy

Looking for a new way to power your Raspberry Pi? The raspberryHy project aims to develop a small fuel cell designed for powering the credit card sized computer. It adds a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell, a battery, and custom control electronics to the Pi.

The system takes hydrogen in from a compressed hydrogen cartridge and feeds it through a regulator. This passes the hydrogen into the PEM fuel cell at the correct pressure, and creates a potential. The control electronics boost that voltage up to the 5 V required on the Pi’s USB port. There’s also an electronically controlled purge valve which periodically exhausts the fuel cell.

There’s a few reasons you might want to run your Pi with hydrogen. Run time of the fuel cell is limited only by the amount of hydrogen you can store. In theory, you could connect a large cylinder for very long run times. Combined with a battery, this could be quite useful for running Pis in remote locations, or for long-term backup power. The raspberryHy will be presented at Hannover Fair 2014 this month.

Powering vehicles with aluminum

Pop a few aluminum bits into this little RC racer and you’ll have power for around forty minutes. This concept, which has been patented, is the result of a college research project. It uses a chemical reaction between aqueous Sodium Hydroxide and aluminum. The result of that reaction is hydrogen, which is gathered and directed to a fuel cell that drives the car.

Novel? Yes. Interesting? Absolutely. But you should be raising an eyebrow at the dubious choice of fuel that is aluminum.

If you don’t know what we’re talking about let us paint you a picture. Aluminum is a metal that is refined from bauxite ore. It takes an immense amount of electricity to smelt the metal. This is usually justified because aluminum is one of the most recyclable substances on earth, capable of being melted down and reformed countless times. But dissolving it in drain cleaner breaks it down and then it’s gone. So what we have here simply must be the least efficient disposable battery so far developed. It’d probably use less resources to grow and harvest lemons as a power source.

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