As the world endeavors to pursue its mission of “Go green, Go solar”, drones also have caught up with the trend of running on solar energy. The creation of solar powered aircrafts in 1980s inspired the invention of solar powered drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
Drones were primarily developed to assist critical military operations requiring high level of precision and where authorities wished to ward off risks of innocent deaths. However, drones were later adopted in various other fields like agriculture, mining, gathering scientific data and even for private utility.
Who are the key players?
Though solar powered drones, as a concept, was developed years ago, the world has witnessed a lot of activity in this area in the recent past only. From companies like Airbus, Google, Lockheed Martin to government organization like NASA, all are developing solar drones. Some of the solar drones worth mentioning are:
1. Zephyr 8 by Airbus:
This drone can act as an aircraft as well as satellite. It can fly at high altitudes which enhances the performance of solar cells inside it. It enables HD imaging, strengths communication network and much more.
2. Boeing Solar Eagle (Vulture II)
It is especially built to be in air for a long duration of around 5 years.
3. Google – Titan Aerospace – Solara 50 and Solara 60, Skybender –
These drones support internet connectivity as they fly around the atmosphere. Google intends to expand the network of such drones and replace the towers and receivers in near future.
4. Lockheed Martin – HALE – D
This is basically a stationery drone that is used for surveillance, weather forecast and for improving connectivity. It is also used in the defense industry for intelligence and surveillance.
5. Facebook’s Ascenta
Ascentra was launched in 2014 is devoted to improving the internet connectivity and providing internet access to remote areas.
How do solar drones work?
The wings of drones are equipped with solar panels that have solar cells embedded in them. These cells get charged up when sun rays fall on them. To support uninterrupted flight at night, the wings of drones have lithium ion batteries stored inside. The solar cells also charge these lithium ion batteries. The drones are made up of carbon fiber that has good durability. These drones are completely unmanned and they can take off, fly and land independently. The biggest advantage of these drones is that they are emission-free.
Since every virtue comes with a little vice, these drones also have some glitches. Firstly, since they work on solar power, they need, even if not continuous, at least a sufficient supply of sun’s heat to keep them flying all the time. These drones are not smooth landers. The motor of these drones is programmed to stop working once it comes to a particular height while landing. Once the motor stops, the drone exhibits a bumpy and rough landing. This may lead to damage of certain parts. Though majority parts of the drone are repairable, this involves a hefty cost. Solar drones need to be as light-weight as possible to be able to carry supplementary equipment.
The designing of solar powered drones also calls for optimization of available space by installing large number of solar cells. But, while doing so, a balance has to be struck between the weight and efficiency of solar cells because the drones need highly powerful cells in order to ensure seamless performance. Thus considering all of this, it is indeed a fact that solar drones are a relatively costly affair.
Nevertheless, the purpose which the solar drones are bound to serve is extremely beneficial for our future and well-being. Let’s hope that these drones create a clean, green and emission-free revolution.