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Revolutionary Drone Technology: Laser-Powered Unmanned Flight

In a groundbreaking development, researchers at Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU) in Xianyang, China, have unveiled a drone equipped with a pioneering feature – it doesn't require landing to recharge its batteries. This remarkable feat is made possible through the utilization of a remote laser system.

The core of this innovation lies in a photoelectric converter installed at the base of the drone, which harnesses energy from the directed laser. While wireless power transmission systems have shown considerable potential, their efficiency remains a challenge. On the transmission end, the energy transfer efficiency from the laser can vary between 50-85%, contingent upon the quality of the laser, while on the receiving end, approximately 50% of the energy may be lost.

Notably, PowerLight, previously known as LaserMotive, based in Washington, had previously showcased a similar wireless charging system in 2012. Their system successfully supported a large drone in sustained flight for 48 hours within a wind tunnel, and even powered one of Lockheed Martin's Stalker drones from a distance of up to 600 meters.

The team at NPU has further augmented this technology with an "intelligent visual tracking algorithm," ensuring precise alignment of the laser beam with the drone, alongside an adaptive beam formation system adept at compensating for fluctuations in atmospheric density. Additionally, they have devised a method for swiftly identifying obstacles and adjusting the beam power to maintain safe operation levels. Rigorous testing has been conducted, including trials with a small quadcopter under varied lighting conditions, both indoors and outdoors, with impressive results – as showcased in the China Daily article.

The potential of laser-based systems to operate over extended distances implies the capability of establishing enduring aerial platforms, akin to low-altitude satellites. However, the practicality of such multicopter-type platforms may hinge upon weather conditions.

Anticipating potential regulatory challenges, especially concerning the directed emission of lasers into airspace, is paramount. While specifics regarding the laser's output power, system range, and effectiveness remain undisclosed due to cited military implications, it's crucial to acknowledge that this remains a nascent laboratory prototype.

This unveiling marks a significant stride towards revolutionizing drone technology, promising enhanced endurance and operational capabilities, albeit with accompanying regulatory considerations.

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