Solar UAVs

Solar UAVs: What is Their Future in Our Global Space?

What part do solar powered, aerial vehicles play on a global level? It’s a good question, and it leads to many more questions.

Facebook is reportedly in discussion to purchase Titan Aerospace for $60 million. Titan Aerospace is one of many makers of solar-powered drones, and are currently advertising two drone models; the Solara 50, and the Solara 60. Titan’s drones can stay aloft for up to 5 years at an altitude of 20 kilometers, purely on solar power. Any unused solar energy during day-flying is stored within Lithium Ion batteries, allowing the drone to fly at night (see Fig.1).

drone batteries

Fig.1 – Lithium Ion batteries within the wings charge during the day, and power the drone at night.

There are many potential uses for these solar drones. In theory, Facebook could use as many as 10,000 to provide Internet access to remote parts of the world. Other uses are varied but could include atmospheric testing, meteorological monitoring, surveillance, earth imaging, etc. Facebook isn’t the only mega-company thinking along these lines; Google has its sights on solar balloons and drones for similar purposes. Amazon also has its sights set on autonomous package delivery (Fig.2), which could easily become oriented around solar power.

Amazon's PrimeAir drone delivery service

Fig.2 – Amazon’s PrimeAir drone delivery service

Interestingly, Titan’s drones among many others could potentially escape FAA regulations for U.S. Class A airspace simply by flying over 60,000 feet. This unregulated airspace means more flexibility, which translates into more potential. These drones could not only be used for data gathering, but also for payload delivery. For example, supplying underdeveloped nations with food, goods, medicines etc. That being said, the likelihood of this airspace remaining unregulated as the drone market “takes flight” is very slim.

As this new generation of unmanned solar drones develops, the skies could potentially fill with thousands, each with its own self-sustaining power source and purpose. Everyday, mundane tasks eating away at free time could be completed by simply sending a text or clicking a button. Don’t be surprised if one day you find yourself staring into the glass eyes of an eight-rotor, whirring Starbucks on demand hovering over your front porch.