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Alta Devices Enables Unmanned Aircrafts To Fly In The Sun

The firm's GaAs (gallium arsenide) based high efficiency and lightweight solar modules are claimed to provide unmatched power to weight ratio
During a keynote at the small unmanned systems business expo in San Francisco, California last week, Alta Devices’ CEO, Christopher Norris, explained that small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are no longer constrained to short-range or limited flight times.

They are now able to fly as long as the sun is shining.



This is expected to have tremendous economic value for agricultural, public safety, wildfire mapping, search and rescue, law enforcement, industrial applications, and many others.

In the past, solar solutions for powering these vehicles were either too heavy or could not produce enough power for long-range flight, or both. However, a small UAV outfitted with Alta Devices’ mobile power technology can produce enough power, while adding practically no weight, to fly indefinitely under the sun.

Alta Devices manufactures one of the world’s thinnest, most flexible, and most efficient solar materials from III-V compound semiconductors. It can be used on anything that moves, can be carried, or worn, to generate substantial power from light.



Single junction GaAs based module which is thin, flexible, and lightweight and has an efficiency of 24.1%


In the case of a typical small UAV with a 9-foot wingspan, Alta’s material can generate roughly 125W of power and weigh about 125g (about 4.5 ounces). In many cases, this is enough power to sustain flight and keep an on-board power source fully charged.

Chris Norris, Alta Devices president and CEO explains, “A broad range of civil unmanned systems will benefit from extended range and endurance. For example, when a UAV is used to map a wildfire, or on a human search and rescue mission, it is critical to have flight times that are as long as possible."

And for agricultural use, the ability to extend the range of a UAV and shorten the task of monitoring a large area by avoiding stops to recharge, has significant economic benefit to the farming community.

According to a report published by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), precision agriculture and public safety represent over 90 percent of the potential for civil UAS use and will result in an economic benefit to the United States of 82 billion dollars between 2015 and 2025.

Gretchen West, executive vice president, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) explains, “Efficiency and endurance are the holy grail for unmanned systems. Enabling all-day flight times for small UAVs will change the game for civil use and represents a significant market opportunity."

Alta Devices mobile power technology converts light into electricity, extending the energy source of a system, and in many cases, completely cuts the traditional power cord. The solution can be completely integrated into the final system, and is ideal for use in unmanned systems, consumer electronics, automotive, remote exploration, or anywhere size, weight, and mobility matter.

The firm has set the following records: single junction solar cell efficiency at 28.8 percent, dual junction solar cell efficiency at 30.8 percent, and single junction module efficiency at 24.1 percent. All records are under one sun and validated by NREL.



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