How the Navy is Preparing Drones for the Future

The Art of the Possible

How the Navy’s Oldest Research Institution is Preparing Drones for the Future

The team of scientists and engineers from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) located in Washington D.C. keep breaking their own records as they take lessons from past prototypes to build new autonomous systems to expand the capabilities and options available to the warfighter. Their mission is to investigate the art of the possible, whether it’s powering a drone with a liquid hydrogen fuel cell and making it fly for as long possible, or creating a disposable motorless micro-UAV that can glide in a swarm and create a network of sensors.

The innovative research these experts are conducting will not only help the military with technological advancements, but will also benefit the public as a whole. For example, they are currently exploring how liquid hydrogen coupled with fuel-cell technology has the potential to expand the utility of small unmanned systems by greatly increasing endurance while still affording all the benefits of electric propulsion. Hydrogen fuel cells provide an electric power source that’s lightweight and extremely efficient, operating at a relatively low temperature compared to its antecedents.

This type of technology is considered a natural progression for next-generation vehicles. Automakers are actively pursuing hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric vehicles, especially since hydrogen and fuel cells are on the verge of a "tipping point” - Government-funded research cut the projected-high volume cost of automotive fuel cells 50 percent, and quadrupled the life span of a fuel cell over the last decade. This is great news for both military purposes as well as for the automotive industry.

By Emily Tully