If a UAV's endurance isn't quite up to snuff, independent research and development firm LaserMotive (booth 227) says it has the answer: laser power beaming.
Using a diode laser on the ground or sea surface, operators can beam energy to a receiver-panel-equipped UAV in flight, periodically recharging its batteries or continuously powering it for the duration of a mission, says Tom Nugent, LaserMotive president.
The company says that while laser power beaming technology could provide power to a wide variety of platforms, it is first focusing its energies on UAVs "because there is so much demand for endurance there."
Having won NASA's Power Beaming Challenge competition in 2009 - the first time any team had actually won the competition - LaserMotive is on the hunt for partners, looking to demonstrate the technology on a "real UAV," Nugent says. The system is infinitely scaleable, he says, with bigger photovoltaic panels and a bigger laser yielding more power as needed.
The demonstration model, which uses a tethered remote controlled helicopter, is eye-safe and designed to fit inside LaserMotive's booth at the show. In lab tests, the laser-powered helicopter has flown for nearly two hours, making it the longest duration laser-powered helicopter flight on record. The helicopter is flying all day long thoughout the four-day conference - with breaks to deal with one small glitch: "The only problem with the demonstration is that the motor on the radio-controlled helicopter burns out," Nugent says "It's really not designed for long-endurance flights at all."