FlightWave, Intelligent Energy introduce fuel cell-powered drone

By Patrick C. Miller | September 13, 2017

California startup company FlightWave Aerospace Inc. has introduced its second unmanned aircraft system (UAS) in less than a month—the fuel cell-powered Jupiter-H2.

FlightWave is partnering with United Kingdom-based Intelligent Energy to produce the Jupiter-H2, which features heavy-lifting capability and greater endurance because it uses a fuel cell rather than a battery to provide electric power. The partnership enables FlightWave to integrate Intelligent Energy’s innovative lightweight 650-Watt fuel cell power module into its North American UAS products.

Intelligent Energy’s 650W module runs on hydrogen and ambient air to produce clean power. The technology is scalable and can be integrated into drone platforms without compromising payload placement, providing what the company calls “an optimized operational solution for a wide range of industries.”

Edmund Cronin, FlightWave’s chief marketing officer, explained the reason behind the Jupiter-H2’s tall, cylindrical shape: it was designed to operate in narrow warehouse aisles in space that might also be occupied by workers and forklifts. Companies with large warehouses are looking at drones as a means to quickly and efficiently read radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for inventory management, he said.

"We have a roadmap to have this available for sale at the beginning of next year," Cronin noted.

The problem with conventional battery-powered drones in a warehouse environment is their lack of endurance and limited payload capacity, Cronin said. Flying a zig-zag path down one aisle to scan tags can exhaust a drone’s battery, but the Jupiter-H2 can fly up to two hours and refueling takes just two minutes, he said.

Another advantage of fuel cells is that they have no moving parts, are quiet, pollution-free and emit a tiny amount of water vapor that’s clean enough to drink, Cronin said. According to FlightWave, a three-liter hydrogen tank on the aircraft fuels nearly two hours of continuous flight and helps lift nearly three pounds of payload.

Last month, FlightWave introduced a battery-powered UAS called the Edge that it plans to later equip with solar power. Cronin said that both the Edge and the Jupiter-H2 are “payload agnostic.” The universal bays on the aircraft can be customized to carry whatever a customer needs through FlightWave’s Payload Partners Program—an initiative to open-source an integration kit.

“Why tell the customer what to fly?” Cronin asks. “Tell us what you want to do with it and we’ll integrate it. Tell us what you want to fly and we’ll work with you.”

He noted that FlightWave recently signed an agreement with FLIR to integrate some of its sensors on the company’s UAS.

“We’re excited to work with big companies and even individuals,” Cronin said.

Julian Hughes, senior vice president of Intelligent Energy U.S., said: “We are delighted to be working with FlightWave, a company which shares our vision and passion for creating innovative solutions to realize the full potential of commercial UASs.”