A Canadian Startup Wants to Replace Drone Batteries With a Gas Engine

Image: Richard Unten/Flickr

Written by MARK MANN

Drones would be amazing if they weren’t so terrible. That is, they’re great at putting cameras and sensors in the sky, but they’re awful at keeping them there. The flight-time for high-end consumer drones generally tops out at 25 minutes, and commercial drones don’t fare much better.

For drone hobbyists, the limited flight-time is an annoyance. But for companies that want to put their drones to hard use, constantly replacing and recharging batteries is more than frustrating. “It’s a brick wall,” said Matt McRoberts, one of the co-founders of Pegasus Aeronautics, a hardware startup based in Waterloo, Ontario. We were chatting in one of boardrooms at the University of Waterloo’s Velocity Garage, the largest free startup incubator in North America, where the company has been working to take the cap off drone flight-times.

The problem is batteries. Even high-end lithium-polymer (Li-Po) batteries—the kind most commonly used in drones—have low energy density. Which is to say, they are big and heavy relative to the amount of juice they contain. You can’t simply pile batteries on a drone to make it stay in the air longer, because it wouldn’t be able to lift itself off the ground.

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