Ionic propulsion drone test cheered by Undefined Technologies developer

ionic propulsion drone

Florida startup Undefined Technologies says it has taken a major step in developing a drone it believes could change the entire blossoming UAV service industry by using quieter, powerful ionic propulsions systems rather than rotors to drive UAVs.

Undefined Technologies says it passed a testing milestone this month with a 4.5-minute flight of its drone using ionic propulsion, emitting just 75 dB of noise in the process. That trial marked further advances in the company’s development of the approach, extending time aloft over previous outings while lowering the level of sound produced. 

If successful, the continued development of ionic propulsion is considered a potential boost for various kinds of drone service providers – particularly aerial delivery companies – by slashing attendant noise levels that consumers have continually pointed to as one of their major oppositions to UAV activities.

Read more: Wing expands service of low-noise drones in booming Aussie market 

The company’s original proof-of-concept craft last year flew for only 25 seconds while emitting 90 dBs of sound. This month’s trial brought Undefined Technologies closer to its ionic propulsion project objective of a 15-minute drone flight at only 70 dBs of noise – roughly equivalent to a DJI Mavic, albeit from a larger craft aiming to tote considerably heavier payloads.

“We’ve been on this upward trajectory for nearly a whole year, working hard on overcoming many technical challenges related to craft’s cooling systems, battery lifetime, avionics, and noise-abatement technologies,” says Tomas Pribanic, CEO of Undefined Technologies. “This milestone secures our vision of making ion propulsion technology viable for use in atmospheric conditions. I’m incredibly proud of our highly dedicated team who has been relentless in bringing our breakthrough over to the next development phase.”

Without getting into the rapidly wonky weeds involved, ionic propulsion systems work by forcing charged particles, or ions, through pairs of electrodes, creating a kind of electric wind to propel craft. Up until recently, the technique had mostly been limited to space craft, which – thanks to the enhancing effects of the surrounding vacuum – produced stronger and more durable energy than chemical alternatives. 

Efforts to use it to power aircraft on Earth have had very limited flight results on generally small planes designed to be as light as possible.

The challenge before Undefined Technologies, therefore, is to create an ionic propulsion solution for drones that don’t just takeoff, land, and remain aloft through vertical force, but also carry payloads, navigation and communication equipment, and other tech adding additional weight to the vehicle.

ReadSony applies to patent noise-cancelling drones 

Due to the relatively broad areas that grid-like ionic propulsion systems require, Undefined Technology’s drone is a comparatively large and somewhat floppy craft the company recently enclosed in an outer shell. 

A lot of work remains to be done before the test UAV exploits the stronger, quieter potentials of the tech over propellers, but officials believe they’re on target to produce a production-ready serial drone for delivery purposes in 2024. 

“This 4-plus min flight required advances in the chemical composition of the batteries that can now provide us with higher energy densities,” said Thomas Benda Jr., the company’s lead aerospace engineer. “This improvement is part of our efforts to target lighter weights.”


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