Even the most energy-efficient drones can only fly about half an hour without needing a charge, but the US military is working on a new solution – and it's about lasers.
According to New Scientist, researchers are experimenting with the firing of rays on photovoltaic cells (solar panels), giving them a boost up to 500 meters away. If such a system could be adapted to a drone, this would eliminate the need for docking and recharging, allowing the vessel to stay up for hours at a time.
In contrast to PHASA-35 – a high-altitude drone designed by BAE Systems and Prismatic that remains in the air by loading its photovoltaic cells above the clouds – the US Army's experiment is designed for smaller vessels flying lower and usually used for intelligence gathering.
It is an ingenious idea, but there are a few potential pitfalls. Firstly, every light energy that has not been converted into electricity will be converted into heat, allowing the drone to melt halfway through the flight. Then there is the safety problem of other objects that fall into the beam – including people, birds and airplanes.
The US military hopes to reduce these problems by developing more targeted targeting and finding more effective ways to dispel thermal energy. It is currently working on a working model that will demonstrate the process ground-to-ground and is planning to have a ground-to-air system operational by 2020.
It is highly unlikely that we will soon see such technology for remotely charging consumers in drones. Flying lessons are already compulsory in many countries – without throwing high-energy lasers into the equation.