The US Army is creating small drones that can be powered by lasers in mid-air.
Small drones, or multicopters, have become a valuable military tool for intelligence gathering but power restrictions mean their flight time tends to be limited to 30 minutes or less.
Now the US Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center based in Maryland are developing a power beaming system with a combination of modern lasers and efficient photovoltaic cells.
From laser to electricity
From a distance of more than 1,600ft, the laser would be converted into electricity and keep the drone’s battery topped up.
The researchers involved with the project hope to give an initial demonstration of the system early in 2019, followed by a fully functioning ground-to-air demonstration in 2020.
There are still some challenges that need to be overcome, though. The biggest of which is ensuring that the process does not damage the drone via excess heat. The researchers plan to address this by developing accurate beam control and enabling excess heat to properly dissipate.
The US Army is not alone in developing drones for long-term flight.
UK defence company BAE Systems has been developing a high-altitude, endurance drone that is said to be capable of flying non-stop for up to a year.
The BAE Systems approach will use a combination of ultra-lightweight solar cells and long-life battery technology. Its development team hopes to test a full size-prototype in late 2019.