A group of Chinese scientists is experimenting with lasers that keep drones airborne forever.
The researchers, representing the country’s Northwestern Polytechnical University (NPU), say their method uses high-energy beams that prevent the drone’s batteries from depleting.
Drone technology has enjoyed a rapid rise in recent years and subsequently grown into a multi-billion dollar industry.
Optics-Driven Drones (ODDs) have quickly found utility in several important sectors of society, including conservation, farming, military, law enforcement, border control and logistics.
NPU professor Li Xuelong and his colleagues fitted a commercial drone with a photoelectric conversion module that creates an electrical charge from incoming light, while also allowing drone operators to precisely track its location in real-time.
The study fused the autonomous charging process with sophisticated processing and signal transmission, according to a statement released by NPU’s School of Artificial Intelligence, Optics and Electronics.
Highlights of Professor Li’s research, published on NPU’s official WeChat account, include detailed insight into a 24-hour intelligent vision tracking system and long-range energy replenishment, successfully highlighting the endurance potential of drones.
One of the first obstacles presented to the research team was creating a method to accurately track the drones mid-flight.
To do this, Professor Li and his colleagues built an algorithm that predicted the drone’s flight pathing using intelligent visuals. According to the team’s report, the algorithm performed well in several different environments, even when the light was poor.
To increase the distance the laser could effectively charge the drone, the researchers needed to solve the problem of attenuation in the atmosphere. Lasers and lights lose intensity the further they travel from the source.
Apart from distance, attenuation can occur if the laser is subjected to physical and atmospheric disturbances, such as walls, changes in temperature and interference from other signals, such as radio waves and electrical currents.
The team opted to modify the beam to automatically adjust its intensity, allowing the laser to maintain a clear line of communication with the drone, even in sub-optimal conditions.
The team is hopeful their experiment will go a long way in easing one of the chief concerns of the drone industry: insufficient operating windows due to poor battery life.
Naturally, NPU did not disclose a full specifications list for the innovative design as drone technology has military applications.
The NPU report did suggest, however, the drone could keep a charge at around 20 stories of elevation and performed equally proficiently indoors, outdoors and at night.