Researchers to test laser charging of UAVs in flight

Researchers to test laser charging of UAVs in flight

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

The Stand-off Ubiquitous Power/Energy Replenishment – Power Beaming Demo (SUPER PBD) will look at the feasibility of recharging an electric powered small aircraft in flight using a laser. This would allow indefinite flight times by combining “Fly” and “Fly & Charge” cycles, removing the need for the aircraft to land to recharge its batteries.

Endurance is a key requirement for unmanned aircraft. The UK’s Zephyr S solar powered  unmanned craft has just completed a reconrd-breaking 25 day flight above Arizona just using its solar cells. There are also several projects using lasers to power small insect-sized robots and mobile phones (see below).

DARPA’s SUPER PBD project will use the Silent Falcon unmanned aerial system (UAS), shing a laser from the ground onto solar cells on the aircraft, presumably on the underside of the wing rather than on top. 

“We believe that this project will demonstrate that remote electric refueling of DoD systems via high energy laser power beaming to extend mission operation time in contested and remote environments can be delivered to the war fighter in the near future”, said Dr Joseph Abate, the project’s DARPA lead.

Other partners in the SUPER PBD project include optical component specialist Optonicus, SolAero Technologies and Ascent Solar Technologies for the in-flight charging systems.

“We are extremely fortunate to partner with DARPA in this first of its kind demonstration of new and innovative UAS technologies. The SUPER BPD project will set the stage for future applications of the power beaming capabilities and further demonstrates the versatility of the technology embedded in the Silent Falcon, the only solar electric, long range, long endurance UAS,” said John Brown, chairman of Silent Falcon UAS.

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