US Army will test laser power for long endurance drones

By early 2019, the US Army will start providing power to a drone via a laser beam. They hope to be powering airborne drones by 2020 as long as the necessary regulatory process is approved.

DARPA will use the Silent Falcon UAS Technologies solar electric, fixed wing, long endurance, long-range Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) for the Stand-off Ubiquitous Power/Energy Replenishment – Power Beaming Demo (SUPER PBD).

DARPA will try to provide power to drones at a range of 500 meters.

DARPA will demonstrate the feasibility of recharging the batteries on board, in flight, by using a laser light source, allowing for indefinitely long flight times by using concatenated “Fly” and “Fly & Charge” cycles removing the need to land to refuel.

The US Navy and other areas have also been looking at power beaming with lasers and microwaves.

1. Power beaming is an emerging disruptive technology
2. There are important tradeoffs in system implementation between:
– Safety and power density
– Wavelength and aperture size
3. Recent breakthroughs in component technologies have increased system feasibility 
4. The research and industrial base is eager to develop and transition capabilities in this area to operations