A partnership between a leading solar-cell provider and Johns Hopkins University could give a sunny forecast to longer drone battery life.
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory recently awarded a contract to SolAero Technologies Corp. – maker of solar cells and aerospace-applied composite structural products. The contract will fall under the authority of the U.S. Department of Defense.
The partnership will develop an integrated solar-cell wing rig for AeroVironment’s Puma fixed-wing drone with plans to test the new product later this year.
The solar wing – composed of high-efficiency solar cells integrated onto a ruggedized composite structure – is virtually identical to a normal wing on the Puma. However, using the power of the sun, the new wing will extend flight time and maximize payload pull.
“We are excited by the opportunity to provide our lightweight, affordable integrated solar wing technology to APL in support of this important DoD program,” SolAero CEO Brad Clevenger said in a press release. “We look forward to the upcoming flight tests and to the positive results enabled by our cooperation with APL on this project.”
The solar wing is the brainchild of both SolAero and the company’s subsidiary, Alliance Spacesystems. During recent flight tests at Yuma Proving Ground earlier this year, SolAero officials say the new wing “performed flawlessly and demonstrated power generation equal to engineering estimates.”
The new contract represents yet another foray into the drone world for Johns Hopkins.
In September, JHU medical researchers completed what may be the longest medical drone delivery flight across more than 160 miles of Arizona desert. The fixed-wing flight successfully demonstrated the benefits of delivering blood samples or other urgent medical payloads via UAS.
Using an onboard system which maintained proper temperatures for the cargo of precious blood, the drone finished in three hours – plenty of time to keep the samples viable for medical analysis.
“We expect that in many cases, drone transport will be the quickest, safest and most efficient option to deliver some biological samples to a laboratory from rural or urban settings,” JHU pathology professor Timothy Amukele said of the flight.
Translation – yet again, drones save lives.