A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

US: Toy helicopter powered by 500-watt laser beam; kept aloft for more than a day

A $300 AR Drone toy helicopter was kept aloft for over a day by a 500-watt invisible laser beam aimed at solar panels that hung underneath. The successful laser-powered flight endurance record was set by the Kansas City Space Pirates robotics team.

They noted that the technique could be scaled up to create laser-powered drones that could do useful work: “commercial laser-powered flight applications are only a few years away.”

Pic 2013-09-30 at 7.04.08 PM

The toy’s batteries normally have a 5-minute charge. But the invisible laser and solar panels supplied enough power to keep it aloft indefinitely. However, practical problems such as broken communication links and air gusts from an open door, led to a number of failed attempts before the final, successful 25 hour attempt which doubled the old mark of 12 hours.

Because of the danger to vision posed by the infrared 500 watt beam, the team took a number of safety precautions. A visible green laser was co-linear with the invisible power beam. Laser safety eyewear was worn in the area. Two persons manned the emergency stop button; one was in charge of the button and the other’s job was to keep the button-presser awake.

From the Kansas City Star and KC Space Pirates