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Naval Research: New Drone Fueled by the Elements

Groundbreaking army analysis is giving drones their day in the solar – or at the very least half a day.

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is empowering drones to remain aloft greater than 12 hours utilizing power from the solar and wind. Although the analysis is focusing on army functions, the answer is prone to trickle down into business sectors in the future.

“One of the common complaints that we hear across industry and the warfighters is that they want aircraft to fly longer,” mentioned Dr. Dan Edwards, senior aerospace engineer in NRL’s Tactical Electronic Warfare Division. “One great way to do this is to capture atmospheric wind energy or solar energy to extend the endurance.”

The breakthrough is the fruits of a 10-year effort to “teach” autonomous drones tips on how to fly above atmospheric thermals, mimicking chook flight.

The fixed-wing drone can fly a way-point route and circle over rising air when it detects a thermal updraft.

“Sunlight heats up the surface of the Earth, which in turn heats the lowest layer of air,” Edwards mentioned. “That warm air eventually bubbles up as a rising air mass, called a thermal, which the airplane can use to gain altitude. It’s indirectly solar-powered.”

The drone can also be fueled by solar energy by way of super-efficient, photovoltaic cells. NRL Photovoltaics Section chief Phil Jenkins explains:

“For a long time, even though there has been solar aircraft since the 1990s, the efficiency of the solar cells wasn’t high enough to pay the mass penalty, meaning you weren’t getting enough energy to justify the additional mass. But over the last 10 years, that has really changed. The cells have gotten more efficient and lighter. “Between [wind and solar power], you have the most robust energy-harvesting platform, because sometimes you’ll be able to soar and sometimes you won’t have the solar, and vice versa.”

Extended flight missions will permit the army to collect extra surveillance and reconnaissance knowledge and could also be deployed for civilian makes use of akin to pipeline or railway inspection in addition to search-and-rescue.

“The technology could be very useful for coastal monitoring or pollution monitoring, for example,” mentioned Jenkins. “In these cases, you just want eyes up there for hours and hours, and Solar-Soaring makes that possible.”

Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid curiosity in all issues tech. He focuses on anti-drone applied sciences and the public security sector; police, fireplace, and search and rescue.

Beginning his profession as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited hundreds of partaking information articles, weblog posts, press releases and on-line content material. He has gained a number of media awards over the years and has since expanded his experience into the organizational and academic communications sphere.

In addition to his proficiency in the subject of enhancing and writing, Jason has additionally taught communications at the college stage and continues to steer seminars and coaching periods in the areas of media relations, enhancing/writing and social media engagement.

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