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Researchers develop new photovoltaic engine which can make drones fly for several days

Researchers at UC Berkeley have broken another record of photovoltaic efficiency, which could lead to the development of an ultra-light engine that could power drones for days. For the past 15 years, there was 23 percent efficiency in converting heat into electricity with the help of thermovoltaics, but more insight allowed the efficiency to raise to 29 percent. Researchers now aim to reach close to 50 percent efficiency in the near future by applying scientific concepts.  The report has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This could be a breakthrough for technologies that rely on heavy batteries for power.  Thermophotovoltaics are an alternate power source which could help power drones and other unmanned vehicles to operate continuously for days. It could also be used for powering deep space probes for several centuries and ultimately power a house with the help of a generator of an envelope’s size.

The thermophotovoltaics are compact and efficient for a wide range of application with as little as 100 watts to 100 megawatts, having the ability to deliver electricity to 36,000 homes.

Eli Yablonovitch, professor of electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) and corresponding author on the paper said that this project builds upon the work which found key to boosting the solar efficiency by not absorbing more photons but by emitting them by adding a mirror at the back of the photovoltaic cell which broke the efficiency record. The mirror creates a dense infrared luminescent photon gas with the solar cells which later adds voltage.

The team believes that the mirror could serve a double purpose as it first solves one of the biggest problems in thermophotovoltaics which is to exploit the thermal photons with too little energy to produce electricity. The mirror can be used to reflect the small photons to reheat the thermal source which creates another chance for the creation of high energy photon to create and generate electricity. They have achieved this record-breaking result simply by adding a gold mirror and now they are planning to add a dielectric layer above the gold which could improve the efficiency level to close to 36 percent as claimed by Luis M. Pazos Outόn, a postdoctoral researcher in EECS and also a lead author of the paper.

There was 36 percent result just by increasing reflectivity, making other tweaks to the cell using proven scientific techniques, we can reach our target of 50 percent efficiency said Zunaid Omair, a graduate student researcher in EECS. Before their project, the efficiency which was stalled at 23 percent was increased to 29 percent which is really a big deal.

Journal Reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

delivery drone

Google drone delivery gets approval in Australia

Drone company “Wing“—an offshoot of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has been trialling deliveries of coffee and local medication using drones for past 18 years and will now go full time ahead as it receives approval from Aviation Watchdogs on Tuesday.

The spokesman for CASA, Australian aviation authority – Peter Gibson, told the media that the safety of the drones, traffic management system, drone pilot training and operational plans have been verified as 3,000 deliveries have been made which allowed the regulators to judge the safety of the project. He also said that the project was approved with strict conditions which included daylight operating hours around 11-12 hours a day and that they should not be fully automated but need to be piloted, banning the drones from crossing over main roads and staying at a specified altitude.

There were two issues that the regulators did not judge or focus upon which included the invasion of privacy of the residents as they fear that the drone might hinder with it and also the noise created by the drone which disturbed the residents , above whom it flew, since, they claim that the noise could be heard from even a double- glazed glass window. On the other hand, Gibson claimed that CASA did consider the noise issues of the project when it had given the green signal.

The initial area from where the operation will commence covers only one hundred homes lying in the suburbs of Crace, Palmerston and Franklin in Canberra as of now. However, the number is said to expand quickly as per the demand from the public. It is claimed that it will soon expand to Harrison and Gungahlin also.

When a customer uses an app to order any product , it is loaded onto a drone. The drone then hovers over its destination and lowers down the goods on a winch-line cable delivering it directly to the customer before flying away.

In the United States of America, UPS launched the country’s first authorised use of unmanned drones for transporting packages to recipients last month.

The drone delivery is believed to add $30m to $40m of additional annual revenue for ACT(Australian Capital Territory) businesses as estimated by the company.

The project is trumpeting reductions in delivery cost and also in the carbon emissions and predicts that these drones could deliver more than one in four takeaway food orders. It is estimated that this project could deliver 4-6% of all purchases in the Australian Capital Territory(ACT) by 2030.

Drone AK-47 Russian Patent

Russian patent shows strange idea of flying drone with built in AK-47

The Russian Federal Service has just emerged with a new patent of a flying drone which can be thought of as an assault rifle with wings. Though the drone is designed around a classic Kalashnikov’s AK-47, which has a timeless design and substantial recognition in warfare, the only thing missing was it to fly.

This patent was originally presented by the Russian state-owned company, Almaz Antey which is an air and defense corporation involved in the business of making arms and ammunition. The patent emerged by Almaz Antey displays a spectacle and shows images of a minimalist drone that is formed around the Kalashnikov-styled rifle.

There is no specific pattern to how the aircraft looks, but with fairly evident propellers on either side, which may support propulsion, it seems to have a large control surface which is built into vertically rear stabilizers and towards the gun’s barrel which lies at the front of the aircraft. It has a protruding and jutting barrel system in the front. The Rifle seems to be built into the fuselage between two glider-like wings on either side facing the propellers. The aircraft-gun shows no signs of a streamlined body or aerodynamically pleasing appearance.

Drone with AK-47 labelled image

This gun drone was designed by a Russian defence contractor (Source: thesun.co.uk)

With no active propellers and stabilizers, the unmanned aircraft surely seems to pose an evident threat to the world of warfare. An assault rifle usually works against a group of people or targets that remain unarmored. It becomes hard to imagine a scenario which would require Russia to need small flying assault rifle aircraft to shoot people mid-air. The wedged frame of the iconic AK-47 has no obvious way of propelling itself. The patent seems to propagate the idea that the rifle can fire more than 30 rounds at a time, but unless it has a hidden capacity to change the magazines in-flight, each drone gun would not be able to fire accurately more than 30 rounds. There also seems no way to keep a track of targets during shooting. It is definitely a worrisome concept that has been unleashed onto the world. The gun’s recoil during shooting would also likely cause the light aircraft to spin wildly out of control as the plane is not in control of a pilot and could pose danger.

It is unclear to the audience that how effective the assault rifle would perform in a combat situation during an actual war. With the presence of serious design flaws, questions remain unanswered whether the drone would fly back when it runs out of magazines or keep track of targets? Defense contractors for arms and ammunitions routinely file patents for a variety of innovations and don’t always follow through with them, so it’s unclear if we’ll ever see this strange assault rifle actually flying around. We can only wait for the patent to be accepted or for the company to pursue its idea in the future if it wants to, but the point is, this idea should not be unleashed as it poses a large threat to the civilians.