Boeing just patented a drone that can fly forever

This week, the US Patent and Trademark Office approved an application from Boeing for an autonomous drone that can be recharged without ever landing. 

Currently, the amount of time a drone can spend in the air is limited by the amount of fuel or electricity it can carry on board.

But those limitations could be a thing of the past.

According to the patent, the system involves self-flying battery-powered dirigibles or drones that can deploy a retractable tether. The tether will then be able to connect to a power source as the craft hovers in midair. When it’s fully charged, the drone will automatically fly off to complete its programmed task while another drone will fly in and take its place at the charging point.

Depending on the specific application of the drone, the tether can be connected to a variety of sources ranging from land-based power supplies to ocean vessels. The tether can even be connected to moving vehicles, allowing the drone to charge while flying. 

The patent — which was filed in March of 2013 and approved this week — is a reasonable concept for an efficient and effective way to manage and charge a fleet of drones. Since the drones can theoretically fly forever without landing, the system forgoes the need for landing and storage space. Of course, the drones would probably have to periodically land for maintenance.

Thus far, the proposed system exists on the drawing board. There’s no word whether Boeing plans on actually building these drones.

Boeing Drone PatentUSPTO/BoeingThe patent.

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