Regulations and battery technology standing in the way of making more advanced drones, expert says

Posted at 10:04 AM, Jul 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-11 23:59:31-04

LOGAN, Utah — Drones are used for a number of tasks these days, like search and rescue missions, package deliveries, surveillance and photography.

People also use them for drone racing, a hobby that's picked up popularity over the years by enthusiasts like Kevin Plaizier.

"Drone racing is getting more popular. There are local Utah races that are held every year. Over the summer, they do them about once a month," Plaizier said.

He's also a safety pilot and electrical engineer at AggieAir, a drone research department at Utah State University.

In June, Plaizier won an international drone design contest for his Lynchpin model drone, along with a $25,000 prize.

The drone he made has 12 motors that are all at different angles, and it's different from the standard drones you can buy in stores and online.

"All of the motors are in different directions, which gives the drone the ability to hover in any orientation," Plaizier said. "So you can rotate it, hover it upside down, sideways, whichever way, and still have full control of the drone."

The drone engineer and enthusiast thinks that as designs for drones evolve, they will be able to do more things — like get people from one place to another. However, that also depends on how quickly battery technologies advance.

Plaizier said that a lot of drones people are buying these days will give you maybe 30 minutes of flight time. If you’re trying to power a drone taxi, you now have a lot more weight and a lot more mass you have to deal with.

He also thinks the way drones are regulated prevents them from making progress with how drones can be used.

"Drone delivery could be happening today if five years ago the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was allowing it and allowing these companies to pursue that goal," he said.

The hope is that the FAA will work with drone makers like Plaizier to get faster at approving safe concepts so they can be put to good use.

The drone engineer said a lot of the technology needed to advance drones is already available, but designers are waiting on legal approval to allow them to be operated out of the line of sight of the person flying them.

To read more about FAA regulations for drone operators, click here.