The ability to control or transform the power of amplified light emissions, or lasers, has engrossed human beings for 150 years or more. H.G. Wells used this fascination to power alien ray guns in "The War of the Worlds," and George Lucas topped them all with the iconic lightsaber in "Star Wars."
Back in the real world, lasers have a number of more practical applications, ranging from medical procedures to cutting metal. And while the Army has dipped its toe in the laser weaponry pool, their newest laser application could be the most impactful – albeit nowhere as cool as a lightsaber.
The success of drones in compiling surveillance data and completing other military objectives can’t be understated, but their primary drawback stems from limitations in flight times due to battery life. While more advanced battery technology and solar cells offer strong potential, the Army thinks it might have found a source with unlimited staying power.
Officials postulate that lasers could be used to power the craft through the use of a sophisticated wireless charging technique. In the place of physical contact between a charger and device, lasers would be directed from the ground to the drone’s onboard photovoltaic cell.
This light would be converted into electricity to help keep the drone’s batteries at full power. This activity could reportedly be achieved from a distance of more than 1,600 feet.
The main challenges are controlling the immense amount of heat generated by the laser, ensuring it doesn’t turn the drone into a fireball. For military applications, that distance would also need to be improved. Researchers are hoping to develop a working ground-to-ground system by early next year.