LaserMotive, a Seattle-based company developing laser power beaming systems to transmit electricity without wires, has demonstrated their technology by keeping a model helicopter hovering for hours on just a few watts of laser power. The alternatives have included solar powered unmanned aircraft from ETH Zurich.
"The ability to fly an unmanned helicopter for this length of time using laser power beaming is an important technological advance for unmanned aerial vehicles," said Tom Nugent, President of LaserMotive. "Not only does this provide a way for UAVs to be powered in flight without the need for fuel, but it potentially can extend their abilities and enable new missions."
The company won $900,000 in the NASA-sponsored Power Beaming competition, part of the Space Elevator Games. To win, LaserMotive demonstrated a complete power beaming system that was used to power a robotic climber to a height of 3,280 feet.
Recent advances in commercial laser technology are bringing many exciting applications within the reach of economic and technical viability, from powering unmanned aerial vehicles to launching rockets via laser power to beaming limitless solar energy from space to the Earth.
The Power Beaming Challenge has been an excellent first step along LaserMotive's path to demonstrating the physical and economic viability of laser power beaming.
Laser Power Beaming is a way to send electrical power to a remote receiver without wires. It works much like solar energy systems which generate electricity from solar cells using sunlight, but instead it uses specialized photovoltaic cells to convert laser light into electricity.
The Laser Power Beaming system starts with a laser running from a power supply which plugs into a standard industrial electrical outlet. The laser light is shaped by a set of optics to define the beam size at its destination. This light then propagates through air or the vacuum of space until it reaches the photovoltaic (PV) receiver. This array of PV cells then converts the light back into electricity.
The receiver can be moved to a different location, closer or further away, without changing the cost of the system. And power can be available as soon as the elements are placed and turned on, instead of having to wait for wires to be buried or hung from poles.
LaserMotive plans to extend the flight duration of military craft using this technology, and expects to be able to scale the technology to suit most applications.
Credit and top image: LaserMotive
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