Yamaha previews new hybrid drone motor system in Japan

Don’t get too excited — this isn’t a drone most of our readers would ever be likely to purchase. But it does involve a pretty cool concept: a gas-powered onboard generator that creates electricity to run a drone.

News of this came on the LinkedIn feed of a contact of ours, Aurora Brien. Aurora is Manager of International Relations and Development at the Japan UAS Industrial Development Association (JUIDA). The organization is involved, as the name suggests, in helping to advance the use of — and public knowledge about — industrial drones in Japan.

That same association holds an annual trade show, and it was there that the new concept drone was shown.

Range

Battery-powered drones are limited by their energy density, which you might think of as a power-to-weight ratio. Gasoline has a much greater energy density than current batteries, meaning you can get much longer flights from an equivalent weight of fuel.

As a result, many companies manufacture internal combustion-powered drones intended for longer-range work or extended mission durations.

The new concept from Yamaha attempts to blend the best of both worlds.

Hybrid

A release from JUIDA reveals some of the details of the “SHEV” concept drone. Aurora Brien posted it to LinkedIn, and it contains some interesting info.

This is directly from the JUIDA statement:

SHEV is a power supply unit that uses the built-in horizontally opposed engine to turn the generator and drive the motor with that electricity. It is like a portable generator that can be mounted on a drone. The advantage of this method using a gasoline engine is that it is easy to refuel and is suitable for continuous flight. It is not necessary to prepare a large battery or multiple batteries, and it is necessary to consider the performance of the aircraft, but it will be easy to extend the cruising range and increase the load weight.

Aurora’s post links to a Japanese Yahoo news site, but the watermarked photos originate from a Japanese motorcycle website, and the photographer is listed as モーサイ(Mosai) powered by Motorcyclist:

The naked motor/generator. Photo: モーサイ(Mosai) powered by Motorcyclist

All dressed up:

And this is what it looks like when it’s all packaged up:

Photo: モーサイ(Mosai) powered by Motorcyclist

Will Yamaha build a drone around this?

Apparently, the company does not plan to build a drone with this hybrid system. Instead, it plans to simply manufacture the powerplant and sell to other companies that will integrate it, probably in 2023-2024.

For the gearheads, there’s a bit more technical data provided in the JUIDA release:

This unit should operate at around 6000 rpm. The OHV type valve system is also adopted as it does not require valve followability at high rpm, the number of camshafts is small, and the circumference of the cylinder head is simple. SHEV is equipped with a 400cc / 4-stroke gasoline engine diverted from the unmanned helicopter “Fazer R”, supply voltage of 300V, max flight time of 4 hours, and the payload (fuel + load) is up to 25kg.

It will be interesting to see what kind of aircraft these eventually wind up in.

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