During a keynote at the small unmanned systems business expo in San Francisco, CA today, Alta Devices’ CEO, Christopher Norris, explained that small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are no longer constrained to short-range or limited flight times and are now able to fly as long as the sun is shining. This is expected to have tremendous economic value for agricultural, public safety, wildfire mapping, search and rescue, law enforcement, industrial applications, and many others.
In the past, solar solutions for powering these vehicles were either too heavy or could not produce enough power for long-range flight, or both. However, a small UAV outfitted with Alta Devices’ mobile power technology can produce enough power, while adding practically no weight, to fly indefinitely under the sun.
Alta Devices manufactures the world’s thinnest, most flexible, and most efficient solar material. It can be used on anything that moves, can be carried, or worn, to generate substantial power from light. In the case of a typical small UAV with a 9-foot wingspan, Alta’s material can generate roughly 125W of power and weigh about 125g (about 4.5 ounces). In many cases, this is enough power to sustain flight and keep an on-board power source fully charged.
Chris Norris, Alta Devices president and CEO, explained, “A broad range of civil unmanned systems will benefit from extended range and endurance. For example, when a UAV is used to map a wildfire, or on a human search and rescue mission, it is critical to have flight times that are as long as possible.” And for agricultural use, the ability to extend the range of a UAV and shorten the task of monitoring a large area by avoiding stops to recharge, has significant economic benefit to the farming community. According to a report published by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), precision agriculture and public safety represent over 90% of the potential for civil UAS use and will result in an economic benefit to the United States of 82 billion dollars between 2015 and 2025.
Gretchen West, executive vice president, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), said, “Efficiency and endurance are the holy grail for unmanned systems. Enabling all-day flight times for small UAVs will change the game for civil use and represents a significant market opportunity.”