DARPA Is Exploring Ways to Wirelessly Charge Drone Swarms

The Defense Research Intelligence Agency, the gonzo R & D part of the Pentagon, was involved in inventing everything from GPS and speech translation to the early predecessors of the internet. (The agency has tried to develop a mechanical elephant to cross South Vietnam, but is still counting). Now the agency is working with startups DARPA Is Exploring Ways to Wirelessly Charge Drone Swarms in the middle of the flight.

The company, Seattle-based Electric Sky-based, was awarded $ 225,000 as part of DARPA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program to create the world’s first “Whisper Beam” transmitter according to a press release. While drones previously relied on wireless charging on microwaves and lasers that weaken as they travel over distances, the Whisper Beam aims to do the opposite and become more powerful as it approaches. with a receiver, said the company’s CEO Robert Millman. Electric Sky is reported to use a transmitter that sends out radio waves which then target the receiver, in this case, the drone.

“Whisper Beam technology is the electromagnetic equivalent of a whirlpool gallery,” Millman said. “In a whirlpool gallery a single listener across the room can hear the speaker but no one else, even people standing directly between the speaker and the listener. The sound is too weak for them to hear. “

DARPA has a long history of interest in drone projects. For years, the agency has envisioned a program called Tactics Offensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) in which drone swarms would see up to 250 unmanned aircraft go into battle alongside small teams of soldiers. The agency believes these small drone weapons could help soldiers in bright buildings in urban areas and reconnaissance.

Earlier this year, DARPA successfully demonstrated its ability to capture an X-61 Gremlin drone and return it safely to a nearby C-130 aircraft, an achievement seen as a significant milestone in the realization of drone swarms. . Meanwhile, the agency is working on an anti-drone operation that would use sensor-connected drones to detect and classify other drones in urban environments, notes C4ISRNET. So many drones!

DARPA and its partners will have to solve the problem of wireless charging (not to mention bring down drone costs) if these Call of Duty-esque swarms are constantly going through battle. That’s where Electric Sky comes in. As part of the first phase of its work with DARPA, Electric Sky will build and test demonstrations that can work at short distances. Data from these experiments will be used to upgrade the systems over longer distances. In theory, Electric Sky co – founder Jeff Greason said GeekWire Whisper Beam could work with any type of electric aircraft.

“It’s a myth that long – distance power transmission is impossible,” said Electric Sky co – founder Jeff Greason. “It simply came to our notice then. This new method reduces the cost of the ground transmitter and the size of the vehicle receiver. “

DARPA’s investments are worth keeping an eye on even if you have no particular interest in the prospect of floating imperial death bots because many of the agency’s programs eventually make their way down to everyday consumers. While DARPA probably didn’t invest in GPS research thinking the technology would empower a college student to one day track pizza delivery at 4:00 am, well, here we are. Such a thing could happen with wireless charging somewhere down the road, though it’s still far too early to tell.

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