Aircraft that can take off and land directly without the need for a runway – such as helicopters and quadcopters – is attractive for personal, commercial and military applications as they require less physical space and infrastructure compared to traditional fixed-wing planes. Furthermore, rotary winged aircraft are less efficient at generating lift compared to their fixed-wing counterparts.
Hence, while there have been examples of solar airplanes in recent years, a viable fully solar-powered rotary aircraft that can take-off and land vertically remain a major engineering challenge until recently. The unveiling of this fully solar-powered quadcopter is a major step forward in stretching the capabilities of quadcopter drones by powering the flight solely by natural sunlight. In return, the weight of the solar drone is reduced by eliminating the use of battery and enabling heavier payload to be lifted as well as lighter, faster and more agile drones.
The solar powered quadcopter is extremely lightweight and remains airborne as long as there is sunlight, potentially even at high altitudes. Unlike conventional quadcopter drones, the solar quadcopter does not rely on on-board batteries and hence it is not limited by flight time. In addition, its ability to land on any flat surface also makes it highly suitable for practical implementation.
The solar quadcopter solves a key problem that all drones face today: endurance. Typical quadcopter drones have a limited flight time of 30 minutes or so. The prototype that the development team has constructed shows definitively that unlimited flight time is available to drones with the use of solar power.
The aircraft can potentially be used as a “flying solar panel” to provide emergency solar power to disaster areas, as well as for superior aerial photography, small package delivery, surveillance, building and crops inspection covering a large area without having to return to base to re-charge. This increases its range vastly and as a result, multiplies its usefulness.