Researchers at the University of Washington have released a video of work they have done focusing on the contribution of laser energy to small drones.
On May 15, the University of Washington published an article describing the use of laser energy by researchers for the propulsion of small drones. They experimented with their RoboFly drone, which is about the size of a fly and the weight of a toothpick.
Nano drones now represent a real asset for many missions, but they also pose problems because of their size. The propulsion of the aircraft and therefore its autonomy of flight represent a real challenge. It is almost impossible to equip your drones with engines because of their weight. So far, nano drones, comparable to RoboFly, are mainly wireline drones powered directly with energy.
Researchers at the University of Washington have developed an ingenious solution to this situation. They were able to develop a wireless drone, powered by a small photovoltaic panel. A system included in the drone makes it possible to convert the laser energy into electricity so as to be able to operate the wings of the drone.
“Before now, the concept of wireless insect-sized flying robots was science fiction. Would we ever be able to make them work without needing a wire?” said co-author Sawyer Fuller, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Mechanical Engineering. “Our new wireless RoboFly shows they’re much closer to real life.”
So far, researchers have only managed to get RoboFly off the ground.
“As soon as the photovoltaic cell is outside the line of sight of the laser, the robot runs out of energy and lands,” the researchers report. The team is now working on the direction of the laser and its “steering” so that it can feed continuously the drone. The University of Washington is also studying the possibility of giving RoboFly small batteries, allowing it to become more autonomous and thus broaden the spectrum of missions that can be conducted.
The team from the University of Washington would, among other things, are making the RoboFly available to the energy industry, especially to identify methane leaks. “You could buy a suitcase full of small drones, open it and allow them to fly around your building in search of gas leaks.”
The researchers therefore seem to be heading mainly for swarm use. Much smaller and less expensive than the big drones currently on the market, nano drones can slip into spaces previously inaccessible to humans.