LOS ANGELES (KNX 1070) — A recently demonstrated breakthrough in technology may help Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), better known as drones, stay airborne for very long periods of time before having to return to Earth.
This development comes at a time when the U.S. government is actively encouraging the domestic use of drones, first by law enforcement, and later, by private concerns.
Lockheed Martin and a company called LaserMotive have been able to keep a drone flying for some 49 hours non-stop, using a ground-based laser to recharge the drone’s on board battery, says Tom Koonce, the project manager for Lockheed Martin, in an interview with KNX1070 Newsradio.
The test, says Koonce, was conducted in a wind tunnel in Palmdale. The system will very soon be tested in actual airspace in the desert, requiring coordination with both the FAA and NASA to keep the ground-based laser from interfering with either commercial aircraft or Earth-orbiting space vehicles.
“Maybe it’s police, maybe it’s fire, maybe it’s emergency services. If they need to be up overhead for a long period of time, that makes a lot of sense to put a system like this in place,” says Koonce, who also told KNX1070’s Charles Feldman that “it aligns very well with the president’s directive to the FAA to prepare unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace to integrate them seamlessly by 2015.”
And, when the airborne drone senses it is low on “fuel,” its internal GPS would automatically guide it back to circle the ground-based laser system in order to get a re-charge.
How long could a drone be kept in the air using this laser recharging system? Koonce says, in theory, indefinitely.
Most people think of drones as weapons used to combat terrorists in far off places, but that is likely to soon change now that the FAA has streamlined the application process for law enforcement agencies in the U.S. to fly drones.
As previously reported by KNX1070 in our series “The Age of Drones,” both the LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff have been looking into buying drones but neither agency has yet to actually purchase one, they say.
The notion of drones flying around snapping pictures of people below has raised the concern of critics who worry that the devices might be abused by police agencies and usher in a new age of aerial Big Brother. The idea of drones that may be kept flying for indefinite periods of time will likely fuel that concern.
Yet, as Koonce points out, being able to keep a drone airborne for a protracted period has its advantages for such things as sporting events and political conventions.