As popular as drones are, their flight time remains severely limited due to the limited charge capacity of the batteries. Very few models stay in the air for more than 40 minutes. Researchers led by Li Xuelong from the Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi’an now want to have solved this problem with a solar module and a laser. According to a report in the South China Morning Post, a prototype with this remote charging technology is said to have flown significantly longer than with a charged battery.
Using solar panels to increase flight time is not a new idea. For example, a small solar-powered flying object from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich – project name AtlantikSolar – has already flown for 81 hours. The aircraft was very similar to a glider. However, the Chinese researchers used a quadrocopter drone whose solar panel was continuously irradiated by the laser. A special tracker technology is said to have made this necessary “eye contact” possible. The power of the laser beam was also adjusted to the distance and possible light clouds.
“Eternal” drone flight?
When asked, however, Li Xuelong did not reveal any further details about the solar module, the amount of energy transmitted by laser and, above all, about the tracker technology. In principle, however, it is not impossible to use sophisticated navigation software to align an automatically steerable laser beam with a moving flying object. Theoretically, a drone flight of any length would be possible – assuming direct visual contact between the laser and the drone.
Such long-distance charging technology – called “optics-driven drones (ODD)” by the researchers – would not only be appreciated by cameramen for long aerial photographs. Such drones would also be just as useful for exploring disaster areas or observing traffic routes as for military reconnaissance flights.
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