Despite their advanced technology, drones, especially quadrotors, have a major drawback: limited autonomy.

To extend their flight time, engineers are exploring hybrid solutions that involve using fuel cells to power motors or a combination of different types of motorizations, like the Hybrix 2.1 quadcopter which utilizes a thermal engine to recharge its battery. However, even with these advancements, it is still not possible for drones to fly for weeks on end like the Solar Impulse drone.

Researchers at the Northwestern Polytechnic University in China have come up with an innovative solution to this problem by utilizing a ground-to-air laser link, which they refer to as Optics driven drones (ODD). The drone is equipped with a photovoltaic module that converts the laser beam into electricity, allowing it to fly indefinitely.

The concept of using lasers to charge drones is not new. The American military’s research agency, Darpa, has been working on this technology for several years, and NASA has also been conducting similar research since 2011.

Darpa has even successfully conducted load tests at a distance of 300 meters. However, the development of these technologies has been a challenge because of the difficulty of transmitting power over long distances and the interference caused by atmospheric conditions. Chinese scientists have overcome these obstacles and are making significant progress in this field. The ODD drone used by the lab during its daytime test flight. You can see the imposing photovoltaic plate of the energy receiver under the aircraft. © NPU