University of Washington
University of Washington

American engineers have created a miniature flying robot that receives energy for flight from a solar panel illuminated by a laser beam. Thanks to this, it can fly without its own energy source, reports IEEE Spectrum.

Usually small drones are considered drones, but if the task facing the vehicle is not to carry cargo, even a typical drone can be excessively large, heavy and expensive. As an alternative to drones, some engineers are developing miniature robots with a mass of less than a gram. Great progress in this area has been made by engineers from Harvard University, developing such flying robots for several years. They created several variants of robots, able to fly, stick to leaves, dive and swim underwater, and also to emergefrom the water with the help of a controlled explosion. But all these developments have a drawback that prevents their use – they get power on the wire, and create for them a powerful enough, capacious, and most importantly an easy power source is still difficult.

Engineers led by Sawyer Fuller of the University of Washington created a similar miniature flying robot that does not need wires or a battery. The robotic body has two wings driven by a piezoelectric actuator. In order for the robot to fly autonomously, the engineers installed a small solar panel with a capacity of 250 milliwatts above it. Since it produces a current of 7 volts, and the actuator needs 240 volts, the developers had to create a miniature boost converter. He and the microcontroller for controlling the actuator are located on a chip in the center of the robot. Despite the fact that the robot consists of many components, the creators managed to make it extremely easy – 190 milligrams.

On the demonstration clip, the robot is powered by a laser beam. As long as engineers have not developed a beam-targeting system on the solar panel, soon after take-off, the robot ceases to receive power and falls. Also, the transmission distance is also limited. During the tests, the developers managed to lift the robot into the air with a laser emitter located 1.2 meters from the robot. In the future, they plan to increase this distance to tens of meters and develop a beam-targeting system on the solar panel.

Wireless transmission systems are also being developed for larger aircraft. For example, engineers from NASA conducted several tests of unmanned aerial vehicles that receive energy for engines using a powerful ground-based laser. And “Roskosmos” is working on the creation of a system for the laser transmission of energy in space. It is assumed that it will allow large refueling equipment to transfer energy to other satellites. In 2016, the early prototype of the system underwent ground tests, during which the radiator transmitted energy at a distance of one and a half kilometers.