DoD’s DARPA studies tech to recharge drones while in flight

DARPA drones recharging

The US Department of Defense’s innovative tech unit, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is looking for ways to recharge drones while still in flight using laser-shooting tanker planes as the source of that energy.

DARPA this week issued a formal request for information (RFI) from private drone and related tech companies for the aerial recharging project it’s calling the Airborn Energy Well. The ultimate objective of the initiative, the filing says, is to adapt US Air Force KC-46 and KC-135 refueling aircraft with laser energy beaming technologies to remotely juice depleting batteries in UAV as they continue operating.

“This Airborne Energy Well is a potential component of a more expansive energy web of power generation, transfer relays and receiving solutions, enabling the Department of Defense (DoD) to dynamically allocate energy resources to more flexibly deliver military effects,” the RFI notes.

ReadElectric Sky developing beam to remotely power drone flights 

Sounds like an easy recharging challenge the average drone enthusiast or DYI geek could turn into a DARPA-pleasing aerial hack in no time? There are other complicating stipulations in the appeal for information. 

The proposed laser solution must have sufficient power for a 100 kW or greater continuous wave laser, as well as the thermal control. It should also incorporate processes and components that have achieve technical readiness levels of six or higher. 

“Responses to this RFI will be used to inform and explore future programs that advance the ability of airborne assets to dynamically move energy across a network of aircraft equipped with energy beaming and receiving technologies,” DARPA’s filing notes.

The effort to recharge drones while in flight, and without contact, has been a goal of researchers around the world, with most focusing on lasers or microwaves as the primary energy transmission tech. Many of those have been working under or with DARPA programs, including recent projects to “whisper beam” radio waves to recharge UAV swarms.

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