The drone wars are starting to resemble the megapixel wars in the digital camera game from years ago: a furious race among multiple players, with new names entering all the time and seemingly no end to the possibilities. Sales numbers for drones continue to astound as well. Research analyst The Teal Group expects the U.S. market for commercial drones to reach $5.4 billion in sales by 2023. Deloitte predicts that 2015 will wind up being a breakthrough year for these devices. When the dust settles, the firm predicts over 1 million units will be sold for the first time in the category.
However, there have always been some drawbacks with drones, namely their short range and long recharging times. Well, these hitches may soon become a thing of the past as Intelligent Energy recently announced they have developed a prototype for a hydrogen fuel cell powered range extender for drones. They claim their range extender technology offers longer flight time and fast re-fuel capabilities.
Fly in Photo Ointment
At least one drone enthusiast is ecstatic over the news, as New York photographer Richard Lewin, who began experimenting with aerial drone photography last year, has been frustrated with the tech’s short flight times. “It remains a chief drawback as the battery life is short, and I’m talking like 20 minutes max on the models I’ve played with,” he said. “I’m reluctant to shoot with my DSLR on drone for fear the battery will die and the camera will wind up in a lake somewhere.”
Intelligent Energy’s tech, which they will unveil at the upcoming CES Show (LINK) in Las Vegas, uses ultra-lightweight hydrogen fuel cells to extend the lifespan of batteries. They explain that their fuel cell stack within a battery means quicker charging times as well as much longer charges times of up to an hour or more. “If these guys truly have the solution they are touting, it will be a big deal for those of us in the photo drone space. The possibilities that will be opened up if I can keep a camera in the air for an hour will be huge.”
Major Players in the Drone Game
Regarding those aforementioned drone sales figures, a quick peek back at what has transpired in the space over the last year provides a better understanding of where those numbers are coming from. Look no further than Amazon’s announcement late last year that they had begun testing drones for a potential drone-delivery service called Prime Air. Shortly thereafter, Facebook dropped over $20 million on UK-based drone company Ascenta which was followed by Google’s purchase of drone maker Titan Aerospace for $60 million.
Toss in the recent news that action cam-maker GoPro will be entering the category with a model dubbed Karma in early 2016, and the drone market is stealing more than a few headlines of late. While 2015 was clearly a pivotal year for drones, 2016 looks like an even bigger one as the folks at Intelligent Energy get set to release some potentially game-changing tech in Las Vegas. Look out – or better yet – look up!