When flying drones, you’re always going to need a charging station to recharge your LiPos when out in the field. When we’re on film sets, we’re not always near electricity, so you’ve got to supply your own. A lot of companies typically bring a small generator to charge their LiPo batteries when out in the field. This works for most, but we’ve found that generators are noisy, smelly (fuel), require maintenance and consume a lot of fuel.
We went ahead and engineered our own custom power charging station. We had two goals with our charging station. One, we needed to be able to charge our LiPos at a decent amount of amps, 15 amp or more. Two, we needed to power an AC inverter so we can power various AC electronics in our camera truck/van.
Our charging station consists of two deep cycle batteries (yellow caps), and we have them running in parallel. This allows the batteries to remain at 12 volts, while supplying double the battery capacity. We then made two EC5 connectors to run directly from the batteries to power our LiPo chargers. This gives us clean DC power (direct current), therefore allowing us to pull DC power without having to use a power supply.
We then have the deep cycle batteries connected to an AC inverter. This is what gives us the AC electricity needed to power our DIT (digital imaging technician) station, monitors, laptops and camera battery charging.
How to Recharge the Charging Station
After charging multiple battery flight packs (6S 22.2 volts), our charging station will need to be recharged as well. We created a wire harness from our alternator to our battery box directly with a quick release connector option. This is so the charging station is not hard wired into our drone van and we can disconnect the cable harness and move the charging station when we want. We have several circuit breakers and “kill switches” that allows us to send power to the charging station when we want. Most times when we’re charing LiPos, our van is running and we’re letting the alternator charge things as we go. There’s no need to let the power drain on your deep cycle batteries unless your van is not running, then you’ll need to discount the charging station from the alternator by using the kill switch.[adrotate group=”4″]
Power on the Go
So the best part is having the ability to power laptops, monitors and charge LiPo batteries all at the same time, on the go even when we’re driving to our next filming location. Heck, we can even watch movies on our 28″ 4K monitor and make it a fun road trip.
I think the best part is having a clean option for recharging batteries. Generates will get the job done, but they’re noisy, the fuel will stink up your vehicle and they need fuel and oil checks on a regular basis. The small Honda putters only can output 13 amps of DC power anyway, and our charging station will output up to 18 amps when charging 6S LiPos. I’ll let you be the judge as to which is the better system.
Bells and Whistles
In addition to this charging station having direct DC outputs and AC power, we also installed USB charging ports for phones and other small accessories, along with a 12 volt Aux plug. Then of course we installed a voltage meter so we know what voltage our deep cell batteries are currently at. Then to top things off, we installed a rocker switch to the voltage meter so we can view the voltage only when we want. No need to have the LED meter running 24/7.
Just like anything, everyone what’s to know the cost for a charging station like this. Here’s the ballpark breakdown below:
- 2x deep cycle batteries – $425
- Wood for framing – $35
- EC5 Connectors – $15
- 10 gauge cable – $35
- 4 gauge wire – $65
- Accessories – $45
- Inverter – $350
- Main power connectors – $50
- Fuses/Circuit breakers – $75
So coming in slightly under $1100. In my opinion, this is a great price for what all you’re getting. Mind you, you do need a decent alternator with your vehicle, 150 amp or more. Also, most generators range from $800 – $2000 and require much more work and additional expense (fuel and oil changes) over time. Also, if you want to cut costs, you can go with a smaller inverter, 1500 or 2000 watt. That’ll save you between $150 – $200 right there.
So if you’re in the market for building a custom charging station, please be careful. When dealing with batteries, soldering, crimping, thick gauge wire and 150+ amps of power, caution is needed. If you have little to no experience in the electrical engineering world, have someone who is to help you.
If you have any questions, hit us down below with a comment. Stay safe and happy flying.