Until now, small drones have run solely on batteries — limiting their flight time to a matter of minutes. Chris Hagen, a College of Engineering professor at OSU-Cascades in Bend, along with his team of business and engineering experts, set out to change that. By developing a hybrid engine that allows drones to stay aloft longer, they’ve given first responders greater capability to locate and bring essentials to people in need of immediate help.

Their invention — which was made possible by funding through the MJ Murdock Commercialization Initiation Program and the OSU Venture Development Fund — was crafted by pairing a small gasoline engine with an electric motor. Running the engine charges the batteries, powering the electric motors that run the propellers. So far, drones with this hybrid system have flown for over an hour. The goal is to increase flight time even more.

In addition to greater endurance, Hagen’s engine design makes the drones more effective. With enough power for vertical takeoff and landing, it eliminates the need for a runway and makes it easier to send help as soon as it’s needed.

While he continues to refine the prototype, Hagen is getting the word out about his product. By working with SOAR Oregon, a nonprofit economic development organization dedicated to drone expansion, he plans to connect with established drone businesses and build relationships with first responders who can use the drones. Hagen is also protecting his engine designs with patent applications through Oregon State University’s Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development (OCCD).

But Hagen wants his drones to go even further. He is currently targeting them for use in other applications like spotting forest fires and conducting wildlife research. And in the future, he hopes to make hybrid cars drive longer on electricity and develop mini generators for home use.

Researchers like Hagen are driven to pursue ideas no one else has. And those ideas have life-changing potential.

Beavers don’t work alone. Hagen collaborates with engineering and business experts, including:

Tom Herron, owner, Flagline Consulting; M.S., Mechanical Engineering, OSU; former research associate, Microproducts Breakthrough Institute

Shyam Menon, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Louisiana State University; former postdoctoral researcher, OSU

Sean Brown, associate engineer, SpaceX; M.S., Mechanical Engineering, OSU 

Matt Smith, president, Hatch Product Development; B.S., Mechanical Engineering, OSU; former academic advisor, OSU-Cascades