Laser-powered-drones May Beat Endurance Hurdles

- Sep 10, 2018-

New Scientist had a story on September 3 that the US Army was making a laser-powered drone to beast endurance hurdles.

The system in mind involves a laser shot from the ground that can power up a military drone mid-flight.

The Daily Mail said that this laser system would be beaming power to photovoltaic cells on the drone, and Futurism said that "The key is hitting a photovoltaic cell on the drone, which then converts the light from the laser into electricity. The Army hopes to be able to do this from up to 500 meters (.31 miles) away."

Popular Mechanics reported that DARPA chose the Silent Falcon, a solar electric, long range, long endurance UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems), for this experiment in laser charging.

"Silent Falcon has made a name for itself by making long endurance, long range, solar electric-powered drones," said The Drive.

What does the experiment hope to accomplish? The purpose is to prove the feasibility of "recharging an electric powered UAS while in flight using a laser light source, allowing for indefinitely long flight times by using concatenated 'Fly' and 'Fly & Charge' cycles removing the need to land to refuel," said UAS Vision.

Margaritoff fleshed out use cases. "Instead of the Air Force deploying a reaper twice a day to help the California Air National Guard combat the disastrous Carr Fire, for instance, the above technology could provide continuous, unfettered assistance. For rural or remote areas with a complete lack of infrastructure, a drone like this could feasibly be leased by local governments to provide cellular and internet access to facilitate more efficient reconstruction on the ground. By adding a drone that never has to land or refuel, a whole new box of building blocks appears."

Mark Prigg, Daily Mail: "The system works by firing a laser at the drone's photovoltaic cell, which then converts the light into electricity in the same way a solar power panel does."

Futurism, though, mentioned "several hurdles to overcome before its drone-powering laser system is ready for the battlefield." The big hurdle would be in not melting the drone.

What's next? Kristin Houser in Futurism reported the Army was working toward being able to power a drone on the ground by early 2019. The next step will be to power a drone in the air. Houser said that may occur in 2020. "Once it has an operational system in place, the Army will just need to get regulators' blessing, and its laser-powered drones will be ready for take-off."


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