Lasers could power drones in flight or launch rockets

August 15, 2011

Laser power beaming (credit: Lasermotive)

Researchers at LaserMotive have devised a way to beam lasers to power military bases and drones, possibly helping to save lives, since delivering fuel to battle zones can be a dangerous task in wartime.

Although still largely in the R&D stage, laser power beaming has many other potential uses, which include powering vehicles, replacing electric power wiring and transmission lines in difficult places, and even launching rockets into orbit.

The beam is about 8 inches wide as it leaves the transmitter — and then spreads wider as it travels. The beam emitter is located at a ground-based unit and operated by a person, who could control it from the same location or remotely from an entirely different place altogether.

The operator uses the machine to fire the laser beam at a photovoltaic collector located on an unmanned autonomous vehicle (UAV), small plane, or helicopter. The current range of the system is about a kilometer.

When the laser hits the photovoltaic device, the photons in the light beam are converted to electricity to fly the AUV.