Drones

Stalker UAS flight time improved by 2,400 percent using laser beams

The flight time of the Stalker UAS has been improved by 2,400 percent using a wireless laser beam power system (Photo: Lockheed Martin)
The flight time of the Stalker UAS has been improved by 2,400 percent using a wireless laser beam power system (Photo: Lockheed Martin)
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The flight time of the Stalker UAS has been improved by 2,400 percent using a wireless laser beam power system (Photo: Lockheed Martin)
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The flight time of the Stalker UAS has been improved by 2,400 percent using a wireless laser beam power system (Photo: Lockheed Martin)
The Power Link system can recharge a UAV without it needing to land (Image: LaserMotive)
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The Power Link system can recharge a UAV without it needing to land (Image: LaserMotive)

Late last year, DARPA researchers upped the standard two-hour endurance of Lockheed Martin's Stalker small unmanned aerial system (UAS) by a factor of four using a propane-fueled compact solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC). Now the flight time of the aircraft has been improved by a whopping 2,400 percent, with a test flight lasting more than 48 hours using a laser power system to wirelessly transfer power to the UAS from the ground.

The indoor flight test saw the Stalker UAS modified to incorporate a Power Link system developed by Kent, Washington, based company LaserMotive. The system sends a beam of laser light from a ground station, through the air to a receiver of photovoltaic cells on the UAS. The system can provide continuous power to the UAV while it stays within range of the ground station and can also charge batteries onboard the UAS to allow it to fly beyond the range of the power link.

The Power Link system can recharge a UAV without it needing to land (Image: LaserMotive)
The Power Link system can recharge a UAV without it needing to land (Image: LaserMotive)

In fact, the indoor flight test, which was held in a wind tunnel, finished with the Stalker's battery having more energy stored than it did when the flight began. With the system providing the potential for practically unlimited flight time, the flight test was only concluded because the initial endurance goals set by the team had been met.

"This test is one of the final steps in bringing laser-powered flight to the field," said Tom Nugent, president of LaserMotive. "By enabling in-flight recharging, this system will ultimately extend capabilities, improve endurance and enable new missions for electric aircraft. The next step in proving the reality of this technology is to demonstrate it outdoors in an extended flight of the Stalker."

With the ground-based laser powered by a standard industrial electrical outlet or a generator, there is potential for it to be positioned at a base or on the back of a vehicle in the field. While there is a significant loss in energy when transferring power between two points near the ground using the system due to turbulence and dust, LaserMotive says that power beamed vertically suffers relatively little energy loss as it quickly gets away from ground effects. The company is even working on systems to beam power from the Earth's surface to satellites and even the Moon.

Source: Lockheed Martin, LaserMotive

20 comments
David Anderton
First steps towards to space elevator!
MzunguMkubwa
Okay, remote powering via lasers? Why isn't this revolutionizing electric-powered transportation of all kinds? Our "flying cars" could be electric! Also, sending power from earth to a satellite? What about the other way around, folks? A geo-stationary satellite loaded up with solar panels and a high powered laser beamin' that stuff down to a collector on earth! Here's where we need the power, not up there! :-)
MrGadget
Wouldn't this allows the stalker to be easily targeted by laser guided missle?
Nantha Nithiahnanthan
Great! This is the future of energy transfer! Much reduced weight. Just like the electric train, trolley bus, etc. The system may have issues with weather and clarity of air, though. But on a larger scale, the fixed energy sources for transportation has huge benefits. The same reason why electric vehicles can get their power from lines while on express ways, making range a non-issue. That will be quite like those electrified track toy racing cars we had as kids.
David Evans
A 1 watt laser is considered to be dangerous. Powering a small car like this would need at least 5,000 watts of laser power. A flying car, much more. Either would be insanely dangerous in a city.
Mr E
When you start talking 5000 watts of laser output you have to consider the efficiency of the laser. We used to get 10% efficiency out of a CO2 laser so you would require 50,000 watts to generate the 5000 watts. People are complaining about the the hazard windmills are to birds but can you imagine the pile of roast duck you would have with a 5000 watt laser. I think the low power system is ingenious but let's not get carried away.
DaveWesely
Too bad we can't get this type of funding for innovation in products we can actually use.:| A good use for this technology would be for an airborn wireless router to serve broadband internet competitively. Don't think it will happen though, ATT, Cox, Verizon etc. would use their political influence to get the FAA to nix it.
jerryd
This system is so dangerous it should be banned. Some poor pilot passing anywhere above it would be permantly blinded or any bird roasted. Next the costs are huge. One would be 100th the cost just by using 2 battery powered ones, one being charged while the other flys at 10% of the foolcell version or 100th, maybe 1,000th the laser version.
esar
I think it's time to look at tesla's work on radiant energy transmission
Captain Obvious
"Why isn't this revolutionizing electric-powered transportation of all kinds?" Because the efficiency is too low, and the costs are too high. Fails the back of the napkin rough calculation test, sorry.
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