Alta Devices integrates solar power in UAVs

By Emily Aasand | October 24, 2014

Alta Devices has partnered with Airware to integrate small unmanned aerial vehicles (sUAV) with solar power. Alta Devices has shown that by integrating its thin and lightweight solar material onto the wings of sUAV, flight endurance can be increased by more than four times.

“This fundamentally changes the utility of small unmanned systems in a number of end markets,” said Rich Kapusta, vice president of sales and marketing for Alta Devices. “For precision agriculture, search and rescue, or land surveying, UAVs need to fly longer and farther than today’s systems provide.”

Longer flight times result in less time landing and recharging for big tasks, less potential damage to the plane due to fewer landings, and it will open up tasks that require flights of longer distances, the company adds. “The ability to fly for up to 10 hours every day creates a huge opportunity for UAV manufacturers and operators,” said Kapusta.

Kapusta also added, “One major limitation of small UAVs is endurance. Now with solar, and with all-day long flight times possible, this limitation goes away. An operator can complete his or her task in one flight regardless of how big or small that task is.”

On certain designs, a solar-enabled UAV can fly all day long under sunny conditions, without landing to swap or recharge batteries, said the company. Although the vehicles still have batteries, the solar cells charge the batteries during flight.

Airware creates operating systems for small UAVs including things like auto-pilot, power management, safety and compliance issues, and overall user interface. Kapusta adds, “A UAV manufacturer won’t have to do anything special to the software in the UAV to incorporate solar onto the platform.”

“Our customers regularly ask for ways to achieve longer endurance on small UAVs,” said Don Weigel, Airware’s vice president of product. “We are excited about simplifying the task of integrating Alta Devices’ impressive solar technology with our onboard systems for those customers.”

Alta Devices said its primary challenge is to increase awareness that this capability is now possible, and to continue to understand the use cases where longer endurance provides significant value to the operators of these UAVs.