Hello DIY Drones,

I'm taking on this project so I can find a Low Cost, Durable, easy to install solar solution for this communities APM 2.5 Operated Projects.  I've spent almost $800 USD of my own money to purchase electrical gauges and equipment to make this project possible.  Also I own the majority of the electronics needed for this project.   I'm still in need of about $600-$700 to have all the R/C Equipment I am going to need so I set up a donate button for my paypal if anyone is interested in donating to this project.  If I am able to get enough funding from the community to get this project off the ground I am willing to do a 25-50 video series that will include the unboxing and assembly of the Model R/C Plane, Electronics Installation, First Solar R/C Flight, 10 episodes on setting up the APM 2.5 for autonomous flight, and last but not least the series will finish off with how I setup my Electronics to provide solar power to my APM 2.5 and imaging equipment.

Click Here to Donate to the Project Via Paypal! - Thanks! -

Project Item List(Items Still Needed):

  1.  PROJET 98" RC Drone Fiber Glass 4-CH Brushless Remote Control RC UA...
  2. Solar Panels for Project ($200) *Waiting to officially decide on what brand of solar panels to go with because I first want to establish exactly how much electricity the UAV uses so I don't purchase solar panels that overcharge my battery*
  3. Solar Battery Charger Testing ($200)  *I currently have been purchasing various solar powered lights for outdoor use (That charge AA Batteries using only solar) and taking out the solar chargers and electrical systems to test on different solar battery solutions for R/C use*

Views: 8393

Comment by Joshua Johnson on November 13, 2013 at 4:50pm

I did forget to mention that I am willing to do a lot of the APM 2.5 Setup Videos Live using YOUTUBE Live Streaming.  Which will allow for any beginners to follow along with me step by step as I set it up so they can learn the proper way of setting up their APM 2.5's!

Comment by Thomas Robinson on November 13, 2013 at 8:33pm

Hi Joshua, your project sounds interesting! Do you have any documentation on what you're proposing to do? For instance, what flight times you're expecting to achieve using solar energy? 

Comment by Joshua Johnson on November 13, 2013 at 8:39pm

Yes I can prepare some documents and will comment back with them in about 30-45min if you're still online Thomas! :) I'm expecting to at least be able to run all the imaging equipment off of solar power.  When it comes to powering the rest of the plane and APM 2.5 I'm planning on setting up a trickle charge method using a secondary battery that will be used to keep 1 battery fully charged so that when the Primary battery gets low it will switch over to the secondary battery and then begin charging the unused primary battery and so on.  I'm expecting to be able to get some crazy long flight times in the ranges of 2-4 hours.  I won't be limited by power but it's going to all depend on how long the electronics and motors can hold out.  That's why I'm looking at incorporating a lot failsafes and systems so I don't have to run the motors at high RPM's.

Comment by Joshua Johnson on November 13, 2013 at 8:45pm

I'm going to use my knowledge in CAD Engineering and electronics to build or manufacture a low cost solar solution for the entire Diy Drones Community who uses APM 2.5/ 2.6.

Comment by Eric on November 13, 2013 at 8:54pm

Why did you choose that airframe?

Comment by Joshua Johnson on November 13, 2013 at 9:02pm

@Eric, The wings are the perfect width for low cost solar panels and with the wingspan being 98 inches I can add a lot of solar panels which is perfect to test long range endurance with it.  Also I have flown the exact model at a fly field and found that it's very stable and doesn't require you to run the motors high at all to keep it gliding and in the air.  

Comment by Quadzimodo on November 13, 2013 at 9:55pm

Hi Joshua,

You may want to change the name of your project from "Solar Powered UAV" to "Solar Assisted UAV" so that your objective will be feasibly achievable.

 

PV PANELS

$20 for a 6x6 cell is insane.  You can purchase Grade A >4.1W 0.5V cells on ebay for less than $1USD per cell.  These cells are going to give you the best power output verses weight, so is the obvious choice for your application anyway.

 

PREPARING PANELS AND INSTALLATION

Just consider the angles of the wing surface you are cover and cut the 6x6 panels to best suit the relevant curves. Ensure that you cut the panels in such a way to ensure that you do not cut any of the surface elements reaching the bus bars, and so that you can link them together in a clean and simple manner.  It is worth noting that PV panels will degrade if exposed to air, so they are best placed between 2 sealing layers.

 

 

CHARGING SYSTEM

MPPT is the only way to go, due to lightness, compactness and above all - conversion efficiency.  Genasun make the best thing for the aplication I am aware of, see their Lithium specific range here - http://genasun.com/products-store/mppt-solar-charge-controllers/mpp....  A de-cased GV-5 might be just what you are after.

 

BATTERY SYSTEM

I am stating the obvious here, but you do not need a "solar" or a "second" battery (NOTE - any deep cycle battery designed to withstand the rigors of heavy cyclic use is suitable for solar use, also it is bad practice to say batteries "generate" power, as they are simply a reservoir for storage of energy in chemical form).  If you are adding solar to an airframe, then EVERYTHING about it needs to follow the Colin Chapman design approach.  Weight is absolutely paramount to the successfulness of your project. A second battery is redundant, introduces a heap of unnecessary weight, losses of efficiency, and is completely unnecessary. Just have the MPPT feed the flight battery directly, this way the output from the solar cells will minimise battery draw when usage exceeds production (anytime you touch the throttle), and charge the battery when production exceeds usage (as solar output will likely well exceed idle consumption of APM, it's ancillaries and FPV gear - provided you build an efficiently balanced design).

 

TELEMETRY/OSD INFO

To keep an eye on live and cumulative solar production, total consumption and net battery capacity status (cumulative battery output minus cumulative input), add a second current/voltage sensor between the MPPT and flight battery, and add some code to suit (easy for me to suggest you do, but beyond my capability to assist you to do so)

 

For a brief outline of my own hopes for a solar assisted UAV and perhaps some inspiration for your project, see here - http://diydrones.com/forum/topics/quadzimodo

Comment by Joshua Johnson on November 13, 2013 at 10:10pm

Thank you soooooooooo much Quadzimodo! I'm going to take every word you gave into consideration during this project.  I'm hoping to get enough funding to get this project underway by next week but we'll see.

Comment by Joshua Johnson on November 13, 2013 at 10:10pm

BTW amazing project your working on.  I will be looking to you for advice during my journey!

Comment by Gary McCray on November 13, 2013 at 10:21pm

Hi Joshua,

I really think this is an admirable effort, But (there's always a but) there is a problem.

The only way you will get this to work is if you let it charge all day in the sun and then fly it for ten or fifteen minutes just before dark.

The planes that are actually successful at real time photovoltaic flight use mil spec ultra high efficieny dual or triple layer satellite grade phot cels which can currently put out up to 37% max efficiency.

The kind of commercial cells you are talking about operate in the 7 to 13% power range (and mostly in the lower end of that.

The kind of cells I am talking about are at least several thousand dollars for a plane your size and those are only available because the were out of spec for satellite or military use and are still allocated - mostly to Universities.

And thats just the first problem. You also need a wing that is highly optimized for low speed efficient lift (not a predator profile) and a super light plane to take advantage of the horribly expensive photovoltaic electricity and toi permit an optimal number of flexible photocells to be glued to it's top surface.

And motor and ESC need to be specifically very optimized for ultra efficient operation under the desired low speed cruise characteristics.

Basically Universities have built several of these and the best they have been able to do is a couple of hours at noon.

And they have had an entire graduate class working on them with tens of thousand dollars invested.

This really is a deeper darker hole than it seems it should be and if all you want to do is use the cell to charge a battery and then fly on the battery that will probably work, but if you plan on real time PV flight, I guarantee you this is just the Mark 1.

I really wish you the best of luck in any case,

Gary

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