Williams, Airbus team for high altitude drone power systems

December 18, 2017 // By Nick Flaherty
Airbus and Formula One engineering team Williams are teaming up to develop new power and materials technologies for high altitude, long endurance unmanned aircraft.

The collaboration will focus on the ways in which ultra-lightweight materials, battery technologies and electrical cell chemistries can be integrated on Airbus’ Zephyr High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) programme. 

Zephyr is a solar powered unmanned aerial system (UAS), or drone, designed to fly at 65,000 ft, above commercial air traffic, for months at a time. The first production examples are being manufactured at Farnborough for the UK Ministry of Defence. The original project team has moved to Facebook in 2014 and is developing the Aquila high altitude UAS that has been undergoing flight testing this year. Aquila is intended to carry telecoms basestations to provide communications links, either WiFi or 4G, to isolated areas, while Zephyr with a 300W power budget, is aimed at surveillance applications with a 5kg camera that can provide up to 15cm resolution.

Williams is using forty years experience in motor racing for the lightweight materials and structures. Its most recent developments have included an innovative take on using recycled carbon fibre to manufacture components that can be 40% lighter than current alternatives.It has also been developing new battery and power management technologies for Formula E racing, where it is sole battery supplier, and is working with several partners on commercialising these technologies for the Internet of Things (IoT) and for electric vehicles. It is also part of a consortium building a battery factory in the UK.