Streamlined design optimum power

Fuel cell for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

Streamlined design
optimum power

IDC has just completed a project to develop an innovative hydrogen fuel cell for use on an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Designed by IDC’s team in Shanghai for Chinese company Troowin, the fuel cell is highly compact and powers UAVs for longer than ever before.

Troowin had found that UAV manufacturers were slow to accept fuel cells, believing existing products were too bulky and relatively heavy. With this knowledge in mind, IDC was briefed to develop a new generation of fuel cell which would be lighter, more compact and with a better configuration to meet the aesthetic needs of users. These features are also crucial to the flying performance of the UAVs, since they have a direct effect on flying altitude and flight duration.

Troowin wanted IDC to explore all design options, from structural engineering to material usage to find a solution that would save the maximum amount of energy for an improved flight time.

Troowin came to IDC with a simple functional model, without any refinement to its structure or appearance. IDC’s team evaluated the concept and assessed how it could be re-engineered structurally to make it lighter, more accessible and aesthetically appealing without losing functionality.

IDC’s engineers found ways of creating smaller, lighter components and integrating a few parts into one single part. Solid structures such as connection tubes were replaced with hollow versions.

As well as this, the team assessed a variety of different materials to reduce the weight and improve the strength of the device. Carbon fibre was explored as one possibility, but stress analysis revealed that its strength was beyond the needs of the development, as well as being heavier than other alternatives, and with a high price tag, this was ruled out. A variety of plastics were also tested and the team chose ABS as the material for the casing, being lightweight, strong and low cost. Thermoforming as a manufacturing process also offered a cost effective process for mass production if required.

Ventilation is important for cooling and providing oxygen for the chemical reaction. IDC’s engineers cleverly created an air chamber for air flow by cutting out structures that weren’t necessary for structural strength and replaced them with less space-consuming lightweight materials.

IDC’s industrial designers focused on making the fuel cell more aesthetically appealing and intuitive for easy installation onto UAVs, as well as for maintenance and wiring to ensure an optimum power connection. The team gave helpful physical cues for fitting by adding clear frames and grooved geometrical structures to guide installation and connection. The metallic structure was designed to form part of the outer styling of the product to give a solid industrial look, which along with a matte dark outer casing, is close to the style of the UAVs.

Troowin is delighted by the new fuel cell, which has led to a great improvement in UAV flight time. In fact, Troowin has now been inspired to review the design and engineering of other products in their fuel cell range.