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Drones Refuel by Laser - Without Landing

Skunk Works and LaserMotive, a small startup alias of Lockheed Martin are developing a system to power unmanned aerial vehicles as they fly. Tom Nugent, president of LaserMotive, says the concept is similar to a "wireless extension cord" that conserves time and money and lowers risk by helping electric UAVs keep flying without landing to recharge their batteries. The Stalker, a drone favored by special operations forces, is being used in ground-to-air recharging experiments. During a recent demo, engineers conducted a series of flight tests over a desert range in which the system beamed power to a Stalker flying as high as 2000 feet. The system's laser-beam director tracked the drone's receiver "with centimeter accuracy despite turbulence and aircraft maneuvers," according to Lockheed officials.

Prior to this development, the current way of refueling midair requires a tanker plane and another midair link between two flying aircrafts. Essentially, this whole refueling method introduced the idea of a floating gas station. While certainly a very interesting idea, it would seem that the evolution of technology always comes up with a more efficient and more resourceful way of powering up our drones as they stay up in the air- indefinitely.

Not only have all the tests succeeded, but they far exceeded all expectations by maintaining a constant flow of energy to the Stalker, keeping it floating in the sky for much longer that the parameters required. On top of this, the battery in the UAV was left with even more power stored than when it started the test. So even in bad weather conditions when it has to use some more of its power, the system can deliver more than enough energy to keep it airborne. This is excellent news for military forces that use the aircraft for surveillance and/or recon. This is also new information for the domestic side. To decide whether it’s good or bad is entirely up to you. 

The propulsion of the vehicle is electrical, and flies up to an altitude of 15,000 feet (5 km) which is essentially cloud to above cloud level. The wingspan is 10 feet, and it comes equipped with a Gimbaled HD day/night camera.


1. The laser arrays about half the size of a loaf of bread each convert electricity from a wall outlet or field generator into laser light.

2. The twin arrays shine the laser beams into lenses and mirrors that shape, merge, and focus on the beams onto a gimbaled mirror.

3. The mirror directs the laser to a thin photovoltaic-panel receiver attached to the wing of the drone.

4. The receiver converts the laser light into electricity.



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