Let’s face it, having to charge your drone after just 3 minutes of flight time is not ideal. And while air time for quadcopters will range from a few minutes to over 20, most low to mid-priced drones have pretty short flight times – and all because of their batteries.
There’s nothing more frustrating than running low on battery during a flight – and having to return to base early.
I’d argue that battery life is one of the important considerations when buying a drone – while some higher quality drone models can stay in the air for around 30 minutes, many cheaper or starter drones might only be able to fly for 5 – 10 minutes before they need to recharged.
So unless you always want to be walking around with a pocketful of spare batteries, we’ve put together a guide explaining how drone batteries work, and how to get the most out of yours. We’ll be covering:
- What’s actually inside drone batteries and how do they work? (And why is their charge so limited.)
- What you should look for when evaluating different types of drones based on battery life.
- What’s the best way to care for and extend the life of your drones batteries once you’ve bought it?
(If you’re just interested in what to look for battery-wise when buying a drone, and want to skip the science, click here to read our drone battery checklist.)
Ok, so first off:
Drone Batteries: What’s Inside?
Consumer drones are powered by electricity, the source of which is of course, batteries. Almost without exception, drones and multirotors make use of a rechargeable lithium polymer (LiPo) batteries to power their motors and onboard electronics.
A LiPo battery is a rechargeable battery of lithium-ion technology using a polymer electrolyte as opposed to a liquid electrolyte. There are several reasons why LiPo batteries are the battery of choice for drones. LiPo batteries are ideal in situations in which weight is an important factor; they are typically in a soft-shell form, which allows them to be made in many types of shapes and sizes; they are superior to their NiCad / NiHm counterparts as they are light, output power faster, are able to store larger amounts of power, and retain charge longer when not in use. Unlike NiCad batteries, they do not develop a ‘memory’, in which the battery remembers an incomplete discharge.
The negative aspects of the LiPo battery are mostly to do with their vulnerabilities. They have a relatively short life-span: LiPos average only 150–250 cycles and a shelf-life of two to three years; if punctured or damaged the sensitive chemistry can cause a fire; and specific measures of caution need to be headed for charging, discharging, and storage.
Later, I will detail exactly how to care for your LiPo batteries to maximise their potential, how to avoid damage to the batteries and the safest practice for charging and storing them.
How Should Battery Life Influence My Choice of Drone?
This really depends on how much short battery life will impact your experience of flying – if you feel that you’re spending too much time charging batteries or if you’d like to try more advanced techniques that require long air time, you might want to consider paying more for an advanced drone with longer flight times.
These drones won’t be kind to your wallet, but they give you the change to really challenge yourself, build skills and take more and longer footage of areas. You’ll find that to reach the 30 minute mark you’ll be spending a minimum of around $400 for a drone, and drones costing upwards of $400 (up to about $1,500) will have a similar flight time with, of course, additional features that add to the ease and enjoyment of flying, such as those which can handle low-temperatures, those with built-in stabilisers for windy conditions and those with quick-charge features.
Another thing to consider is whether the drone you’re interested in specifically requires you to use the manufacturer’s battery. Generally, this will be the optimal battery for your drone, but it’s really a way for the manufacturer to profit. You may want to avoid buying a drone that requires this, so that you’re able to purchase aftermarket batteries, as over time the money you’ll save from doing this will add up.
It’s wise to think of long-term costs of replacing or buying spare batteries. To my earlier point of not wanting to wait a long time for your batteries to charge, you might want to upgrade your charging station to one with a higher amp output to cut down waiting time.
What’s The Best Way To Extend The Life of My Drone’s Batteries?
Extending the life of your LiPo batteries is ideal for drone performance and for saving money, but not only that, knowing how to look after and store your batteries could save you from having a battery-related fire in your home. So here’s how to get the most out of your batteries, extend flight-times and avoid fires.
- Always charge your LiPo batteries at room temperature. LiPo batteries run the risk of over-heating in both cold and hot conditions. For this reason, it’s also best not to charge them directly after flying, let your batteries get to room temperature before charging.
- Never charge a battery that is puffed up, bloated, swelled, punctured or damaged. Make sure it’s in perfect condition before charging.
- Charge LiPo batteries in LiPo charging bags or cases, this is in case the charger malfunctions or you choose the wrong battery type. These batteries can explode if they’re charged beyond their capacity.
- Avoid over-charging and over dis-charging.
- It’s important to use a LiPo compatible charger for LiPos and it’s best to buy a decent charger rather than a cheap one.
- Charge in an open area and don’t leave your battery unattended while charging. When charging the battery, you should be present to monitor the charging process in case a problem arises.
- Unless you’re planning to fly straight away, the ideal short-term storage level is 70%.
Tips for optimal battery use while flying:
- As always, choose your weather wisely. Keep in mind that when flying in very windy conditions you should deduct 5 – 10 minutes of flying time.
- If you can, plan your flight beforehand, consider writing down the shots / footage you’re hoping to capture and try to stick closely to that rather than flying aimlessly.
- Factor in extra time for your drone in case it needs extra power: either to counter harsh weather or to land slowly.
- Avoid flying your drone until it reaches minimum battery life, this will damage your batteries in the long run.
We want you to get the most out of your flights, so take into consideration a drone’s flight time before buying it, take care of your batteries, and fly wisely.