A recent patent filing by Amazon for a drone-based charging system raises a lot of interesting scenarios.
On Oct. 3, 2017, Amazon filed a wide-ranging patent for “systems, devices and methods delivering energy using an uncrewed autonomous vehicle.” One of the many use-cases described in the patent involves a drone (or “UAV”) flying a charged battery to an electric vehicle, docking autonomously with it, and charging it. Aside from EV’s, the patent also would allow the UAV to transfer energy to “surveillance equipment, communications equipment, utility control equipment,” or other vehicles.
This patent is a tantalizing development and its practical value will increase as drones become more ubiquitous and as the energy densities of batteries improve.
Given the current battery energy density and an example provided in the patent of a drone with a 9kg payload, a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates current technologies would support utilizing this patent’s drone-based battery charge to get your EV to a nearby stationary charging station, but by the time the 9kg battery payload on the drone had given your EV all the juice it could, the drone itself could find itself out range to return to its starting point on its own power.
When your EV needs an emergency charge, economic and efficiency considerations are secondary, and the idea that the charging could be done while your vehicle is in motion is quite astounding.
In regions where it is initially implemented, at current battery storage energy densities and current drone payloads and efficiencies, it is likely that this technology will only relieve range anxiety for EV drivers with very deep pockets, willing to pay high price premiums for the ability to have a string of drones service their car while in motion. But for the technology to become ubiquitous it will take some efficiency gains and big infrastructure investments to make it work economically for a larger fleet of EVs.
I believe it is, likely, a mistake to claim, as some other analysts have recently claimed, that this technology will disrupt the current tens of thousands of EV charging stations installed in the United States. Why? Because it is more likely that this technology will actually increase the need to have more of those stations, and it will also increase the economic value of the existing stations, because the drones will need to utilize the stationary stations to recharge.
The Amazon patent filing is at this link.