The invention of a technology to recharge drones and electric aircraft in full flight with a laser

A drone is a small unmanned aircraft on board, remotely controlled or programmed, which can be surveillance if equipped with a camera. This definition implies that the device therefore runs on battery power and must be recharged at regular intervals. All that could change with the announcement of a team of researchers from Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xianyang, China. The Chinese team has just made the demonstration of a drone that would never need to land to recharge. He is able to recharge himself via an invention of the team. How is it possible ? We will explain everything to you!

The new Chinese drone, how does it work?

It means the system that the scientists have invented the drone never needs to land, as it has a remote charging system that delivers power via an adaptive ground target tracking laser. In other words, the drone uses a photoelectric converter, which is located on its base, and which will capture the energy of the laser. The system therefore allows the “pilot” to transfer energy to the drone wirelessly, but with less efficiency compared to conventional charging. The researchers announce a recharging efficiency of 50 to 85% depending on the power of the laser. The photoelectric converter harvests energy from the laser and works according to the same principle as a solar panel. The drone can then remain in flight indefinitely without ever coming down to charge.

An airstrip for recharging electric planes and drones en route. Photo credit: Northwestern Polytechnical University / China Daily

How did they achieve this result?

NPU researchers explain that they have developed a ” intelligent visual tracking algorithm”. This algorithm allows them to keep the laser beam on the drone. They also invented an adaptive beamforming system able to compensate for changes in atmospheric density. The system can also identify obstacles and adjust beam power to maintain the drone’s charge during flight.

To test their new technology, they used a small quadcopter and proved that the drone potentially work day and night at a height of about 10 m. Chinese technology paves the way for this type of in-flight charging operations at higher altitudes and may in the future make it possible to charge aircraft or any other device without the need for landing. Currently, it is a laboratory prototype, and no one knows if it will one day be brought to market or if it will receive approval from authorities who are often reluctant to use the airspace.

The research team tested the drone indoors and outdoors, in daylight and artificial light.
The research team tested the drone indoors and outdoors, in daylight and artificial light. Photo credit: Northwestern Polytechnical University / China Daily

A technique that was already presented in 2012

The Chinese drone is certainly a technological innovation, but it is not a recent invention. The first in-flight rechargeable drone had already been presented by the Washington-based company PowerLight, formerly known as LaserMotive. A similar wireless charging system was presented in 2012. The demonstration showed that the drone could remain in flight for 48 hours in a wind tunnel, capable of powering it in the open up to a range of 600 m. This is confirmed by PowerLight after 10 years research and development the US onboard charging system may be released soon. This duel between China and the US seems to be on all fronts, but it’s pretty good news. During this competition, technologies are making great strides!

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