Laser Helicopter Rises to the Challenge

A few weeks ago I wrote about the pinnacle of awesomeness, rocket-powered helicopters. Hot on the heels of that comes a new challenger – LaserMotive’s laser powered UAV helicopter.

Yes, sadly, UAV does mean Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, which means I have to dock it some coolness points for not being able to fly you around wherever you want to go. But as gadgets go, this has some serious awesomeness power that rivals its rocket-powered cousin.

LaserMotive is using this as a demonstration of laser-charging technology. They automatically track the flight of a small consumer-grade remote controlled helicopter that has been modified with rechargeable batteries.

The batteries are themselves modified for optimal absorption of the laser light frequencies, and convert about 50% of the power beamed to them. This allows the small helicopter to hover for about 6 hours; after that point, they found that the motor would give out.

So why is this worthy of such praise? Because while it is pretty cool in and of itself, it’s something of a proof-of-concept they’re working on to monetize the technology, which has been in development for a different purpose – they plan to use this same power-beaming technology to power space elevators (PDF).

For the uninitiated, space elevators are giant cables anchored to earth, extending into space, with the far end tethered to a counterweight. Vehicles climbing that cable could dramatically reduce the cost of lifting payloads into (and out of) orbit.

All that, and it starts with a little modification to an RC helicopter. What do you think, readers? Is that cool enough to challenge, maybe even beat, the rocket powered helicopter? Let us know in the comments!

(via NewScientist; image via