The total market value for electric unmanned aerial vehicles will reach over one billion dollars by 2023 according to findings in the new IDTechEx report, “Electric Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) 2013-2023”.
This report includes hybrid and pure electric powertrains and electrics being used or considered for UAVs and the new missions made possible by electrification.
IDTechEx finds many benefits of such powertrains but also notes they are not just incremental improvements, because most of the mechanical, electric and electronics parts are changing radically. This applies to UAVs for civil as well as military use. With over $100 million in system sales, AeroVironment’s Raven family of hand launched UAVs are the world’s best-selling pure electric UAVs in number and value. Some can land on water therefore civil and military missions are enabled.
Electric power makes possible the use of wheel power for take-off because electric motors can give maximum torque from stationary. It gives near silent operation valued in military and civil applications. For long range UAVs where batteries are inadequate and hybrid powertrains are necessary, there can still be silent take-off and landing. Only electrics can give us new forms of UAVs, such as intelligently swarming robot flies.
There is a concept of a military UAV that performs its mission then dives like a gannet and hides underwater. Vertical take-off and landing UAVs are now commonplace, the best known being toys that can be programmed in a desired pattern of flight but there are also military and professional civil versions being deployed. Hybrid electric helicopters sometimes use the electrics as an emergency device, a parachute if you will, that permits somewhat controlled landing when the main gear fails, saving lives. These are new paradigms from electric power.
It is with UAVs that we see many of the most radical actual and prospective advances in disruptive EV technology. In 2013, an example of this was the work at Georgia Tech on plasma leading edges to reduce drag. This will first appear on UAVs, both VTOL and fixed wing, then later on manned aircraft, wind turbines and so on if successful. Plasmas reduces drag for moving objects and can be created on the leading edge of a wing by stabilising laminar flow and reducing turbulence.