Battery Considerations for Your Drone

By Mark LaFay

Consumer drones run on electricity, unlike their big brothers in the military that use some form of a combustion engine (or solar). Your drone must have a reliable power source, and that means batteries. The problem with batteries is that they are heavy, must be charged, and they are typically expensive. And remember, batteries on motorized vehicles typically don’t last long. When selecting a drone, take the following criteria into consideration:

  • Battery composition: Drones should be powered with LiPo batteries. LiPo batteries are much better than their NiCad older brothers because they output power faster, store larger amounts of power, and have a longer life.

  • Battery life: How long will the drone battery last under normal usage? The bigger the drone, the bigger the battery you will need. Under normal usage (meaning not a lot of wind or cold weather), your drone should be able to fly at least 15 minutes. More than that is a big win.

  • Proprietary technology: Does the drone require you to use the manufacturer’s specific battery? Requiring you to use a specific battery with a proprietary connector is one way manufacturers can make extra cash. Check out these aftermarket batteries and proprietary batteries for the DJI Phantom drone series. Having the option of using an aftermarket battery may save you money in the long run.

    Shows two LiPo drone batteries, both aftermarket and brand-specific. [Credit: Courtesy of Mark LaFa
    Credit: Courtesy of Mark LaFay
    Shows two LiPo drone batteries, both aftermarket and brand-specific.
  • Replacement cost: Consider the cost of spare or replacement batteries. For example, the DJI Phantom 2 is a $500 drone. A replacement battery for the DJI Phantom 2 battery is around $100. That means that batteries are 20 percent of the cost of this particular drone. The 3D robotics Iris+ is around $750 and the cost of a replacement battery is $40 which means that the battery is roughly 5 percent of the cost.

  • Charging: Does your drone come with a charging station? Charging stations aren’t as expensive as the batteries but every little accessory can add up. Charge times tend to be relative to the capacity of the battery. You can shorten charge time by using a charger with a higher output, which is indicated by amps. For example, the DJI Phantom 2 charger is 2 amps and it will take an hour to an hour and a half to charge the battery. Using an aftermarket charger that charges at 6 amps would cut down the charge time by over half. Proceed with caution when charging your drone battery.

Your drone’s total weight, power of the motors, and size of the propellers will all play a role in determining how long your drone can stay airborne. The battery, however, will ultimately decide your flying time. Without power, nothing else matters! Most drones come with an average flight time rating. This rating is based off average use in reasonable weather conditions.