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Power drones: Toyota supplier tries novel fix to disaster outages

  • December 9, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 12:12 p.m.
  • English Press

YUKI FUKUMOTO, Nikkei staff writer

 

NAGOYA, Japan — In disaster-prone Japan, earthquakes, landslides and other emergencies can cut off entire communities from power grids, sometimes for days. But one auto parts maker is looking to solve that problem with a drone that can double as a storage battery and generator.

 

During a test run on Wednesday, a loud buzz echoed through the mountains of Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, as a drone landed next to a local community center. Once situated, the device was able to power an electric kettle, a fan and a smartphone charger even after a roughly 2 km flight.

 

Aisan Industry’s so-called hybrid drone runs on a gasoline engine, and any excess power is diverted into a storage battery. It has a flight time of 180 minutes, about six times as long as conventional battery-only drones, with a top speed of 15 kph.

 

Powering lights and smartphone chargers after a natural disaster can be a challenge, especially at emergency shelters cut off from roads and power grids. Aisan hopes to use its highly maneuverable drones to provide electricity to such facilities until lifeline infrastructure can be restored.

 

The drone could also serve as a generator if gasoline is available locally.

 

A supplier to Toyota Motor, Nissan Motor and more, Aisan began drone development in 2018 as part of an effort to find new growth drivers. Parts for internal combustion engines, such as fuel pumps, are the company’s bread and butter, and the pivot to electrified vehicles is expected to reduce demand over the medium to long term.

 

Japan’s ban on flying drones beyond the operator’s line of sight in inhabited areas is expected to be lifted as early as next year with the revision of drone-related legislation.

 

“We’ll carry out trials and studies not only for use in natural disasters, but also agricultural and logistical applications,” Executive Officer Kenji Sato said.

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