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PowerLight hits its targets with laser energy beaming

Laser demonstration


Powerlight Know-how’s laser-based energy beaming system will get an illustration on the Naval Floor Warfare Heart’s David Taylor Mannequin Basin in Maryland. (USNRL by way of YouTube)

Wi-fi energy transmission has been the stuff of science fiction for greater than a century, however now PowerLight Applied sciences is popping it into science reality … with frickin’ laser beams.

“Laser energy is nearer than you suppose,” PowerLight CEO Richard Gustafson advised GeekWire this week.

That is rather more than a lab experiment: Gustafson mentioned his firm, which is headquartered in Kent, Wash., is wrapping up a $9.5 million demonstration mission for the U.S. Naval Analysis Laboratory.

In 2019, PowerLight confirmed that its power-beaming system can transmit 400 watts of energy — sufficient to fireside up an array of lights, laptops and a coffeemaker. In 2020, it adopted up with an illustration of a light-weight energy receiver appropriate for drones. The mission proved to the Navy’s satisfaction that PowerLight’s laser system could possibly be operated safely with out endangering individuals who get within the beam’s manner.

Gustafson hopes PowerLight’s success will clear the way in which for an much more bold mission, aimed toward growing a system ok for navy discipline operations. The aim is to transmit no less than 1,000 watts of energy over a distance of a kilometer (0.6 mile) or extra. If PowerLight will get the Pentagon’s go-ahead, the mission might carry in additional than $10 million over the course of the subsequent few years, Gustafson mentioned.

“That may be a actually large step up for the corporate,” he mentioned.

PowerLight, which was beforehand generally known as LaserMotive, has taken a variety of large steps over the course of a decade. In 2009, the corporate gained $900,000 in a NASA-sponsored contest to energy up cable-climbing robots. A lot of the work it’s been taking over since then has been for the navy.

One mission, for instance, entails transmitting laser vitality by way of optical fiber somewhat than over the air.

“Our stakeholders and growth companions are telling us that there are vital know-how deployment challenges that may be uniquely solved by a fiber-based answer — resembling these associated to undersea energy, electrical isolation, EMF-free energy distribution and light-weighting {of electrical} transmission,” Bob Zak, PowerLight’s chief working officer, advised GeekWire in an electronic mail.

Whether or not the system makes use of optical fiber or free-space laser beams, the essential idea is similar: Electrical energy powers up the laser transmitter, and the receiver converts the laser gentle again into electrical energy.

Gustafson mentioned PowerLight’s receiver is designed to attract energy from the Protection Division’s laser weapon techniques.

“For these techniques, to have the ability to do multiple factor is a really large deal,” he mentioned. “You’ll be able to have this high-kilowatt laser that’s capable of trigger destruction, however it might additionally be capable to be used — and certain, rather more continuously — to ship energy over lengthy distance.”

Maintaining drones up within the air constantly is the obvious software for energy beaming. Certainly one of PowerLight’s early experiments (beneath the LaserMotive model) concerned utilizing a laser beam to run a quadcopter for greater than 12 hours straight.

However that’s not the one software: Beamed vitality might energy autonomous floor autos, or present a brief energy supply on the battlefield or in a catastrophe space. It might even be used to transmit energy wirelessly from a photo voltaic or wind vitality facility to a central grid.

“In all probability among the finest examples that crosses navy and business is the rollout of 5G and 5G-enabled gadgets,” Zak mentioned.

“Velocity of deployment is simply as vital for an organization attempting to achieve a bonus within the 5G rollout as it’s within the navy,” he defined. “You’re attempting to maneuver with velocity in tough environments for wired energy — whether or not that’s an city atmosphere, due to regulatory permits, or as a result of it’s actually laborious to get energy shortly in sure places.”

Laser receiver
PowerLight’s optical energy beaming receiver lights up throughout night time testing. The intense space within the center is the optical beam, as seen utilizing a particular digital camera. (PowerLight Applied sciences Photograph)

As a result of energy beaming has so many science-fiction overtones, it’s solely pure to think about using the know-how to cost up rovers on the moon or Mars. Gustafson mentioned PowerLight is speaking with area corporations in regards to the thought.

“They’ve approached us on teaming up on proposal alternatives to help the NASA necessities for powering rovers on the moon, for mining for water,” he mentioned. “They need to have the ability to harness solar energy on the moon … and beam that remotely to rovers, and finally to different kinds of property that would promote communications and sustainable operations on the moon.”

The mere thought of beaming energy to moon rovers might sound out of this world, however Gustafson and his crew have their ft firmly on the bottom in terms of PowerLight’s funds. To this point, they’ve been capable of fund operations primarily by way of their navy contracts.

Gustafson mentioned PowerLight has introduced in roughly $6 million in personal funding up to now, and is on the point of shut a $2 million convertible-note spherical, principally financed by present buyers. That’s stored PowerLight’s workforce on an upward trajectory, even through the coronavirus pandemic.

“With a mixture of full-time and a few contract people, we’re proper at about 20 individuals, and rising,” Gustafson mentioned.

For now, PowerLight could also be laser-focused on navy purposes. However Gustafson expects the breadth of the corporate’s enterprise to unfold out dramatically within the years forward.

“It’s turning into extra actual, when it comes to the demonstrations that at the moment are resulting in operationalization, main towards extra engagement with trade and the concept of having the ability to join extra property — to include sensor networks, communication networks, autonomous autos,” he mentioned. “We definitely see the concept of a crawl-walk-run technique.”



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