A company in Washington state is developing wireless technology that delivers electricity via laserbeams. The scientists and engineers who run the company, Lasermotive, are using the lasers to power aerial drones but say their technology could also replace conventional power lines to deliver electricity to homes.Lasermotive's laser transmitter converts regular electricity into hundreds of watts of light, which can be sent through the air, space or fiber optic cable and converted back into power, via specialized photovoltaic cells.
The laser can be directed at any object in line-of-sight, with telescopes and mirrors allowing the beam to be steered.
"This allows you to break the physical connection from power lines and deliver power to places that it might be too expensive to run a power line or really impossible to run a power line to," said co-founder Tom Nugent.
Instead of installing electrical power lines, which can be time-consuming and expensive, Nugent sayslaser power could bring electricity to remote communities.
The area the company is concentrating on now, though, is the use of lasers as a ground-to-air recharging system to power unmanned aircraft, like the surveillance drones used by the U.S. military.
"The wireless power via laser can be used to keep small unmanned aircraft flying as long as you want, which can be very important because landing can damage them, and in many cases you don't want them to land," he said.
Lasermotive first demonstrated their ability to power aircraft in October 2010, flying a four-rotor helicopter for 12.5 hours with a five-minute battery.
In July 2012, the company partnered with aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin to power their Stalker unmanned aerial vehicle using the ground-based laser system. The aircraft flew, powered bylaser, for more than 48 hours in a wind tunnel.
But Nugent has his sights set beyond the sky.
"Looking out to the truly long-term, we can go out to longer distances and even transmit power, say, from earth all the way up to orbit for satellites. Or instead of using the laser to generate electricity at the receiver, we can generate heat and use that to actually launch rockets. So there are a lot of exciting possibilities as you look out to the 10 and 20 year time horizon," he said.
Nugent formed the company in 2007 with fellow physicist Jordin Kare, an expert on laser propulsion. In 2009 the team won the 900,000 U.S. dollar prize NASA Power Beaming Challenge, allowing them to begin their efforts to commercialize wireless power delivery.