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Mini helicopter flies using laser power

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Multi-mission UAV, recharging in between missions. Photo by LaserMotive

NEW DELHI (BNS): Lasers have been used to shoot down Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). They can also keep the drones up in the air, according to LaserMotive a Seattle-based company.

To demonstrate this, a 22-gram model helicopter was kept hovering for hours at a time on a few watts of laser power, at the recently held AUVSI Unmanned Systems Conference held in Denver, Colorado.

The system uses laser power beaming — the wireless transfer of energy over distances using laser light — to provide a virtually endless supply of power to the helicopter, the company said in its website.

Unmanned vehicles typically flown by military agencies are heavier and more rugged, and so need more power to stay in the air than they can get from the sun. According to LaserMotive, ground-based lasers can deliver the required power

The firm focused light from an array of semiconductor-diode near-infrared lasers down to a 7-centimetre beam, which automatically tracked a modified radio-controlled helicopter.

The aircraft carried photovoltaic cells optimised for the laser wavelength, which converted about half the laser power reaching them to generate a few watts of electricity – enough to power the rotors of the little copter, a New Scientist report said.

“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 has won a $900,000 NASA sponsored contract to develop power beaming systems that could help power 'Space Elevators' to lift objects thousands of kilometres in orbit. But with space elevators still at the concept stage, the company is looking at other areas to utilise the technology.

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