POWER aims to create a revolutionary electricity distribution network

DARPA is working on the next step forward in energy distribution, using wireless power transmission to create a dynamic, adaptive high-speed wireless light energy network. The goal of the Persistent Optical Wireless Energy Relay (POWER) program is to develop and demonstrate airborne optical power relays.

These relays are a critical component needed to connect ground-based lasers with efficient long-distance transmission. In addition, such repeaters will allow building multipath wireless energy networks in the future.

“This is the Internet for Energy – using sustainable multipath networks to deliver energy from abundant sources to energy-scarce consumers,” said Col. Paul Calhoun, POWER program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Division.

“The military is faced with particularly acute energy problems, which determine these innovations. We often have to operate far from established energy infrastructure and rely on liquid fuels that require unreliable supply lines.”

Modern military platforms that require long range, endurance, or significant weapon delivery capability must be physically large to carry the stored energy required to complete the mission in the form of liquid propellants. A wireless power transmission network turns platforms into conduits rather than containers, allowing for small, low-cost platforms with significant capabilities, such as unlimited range or durability.

Powerful radiation may sound exotic, but it’s exactly the same physics used in wireless communication. “You need a power source; you convert that energy into a propagating wave, typically electromagnetic, send it through free space, collect it through a hole, and then convert it back into electricity,” Calhoun said.

However, conversion efficiency remains a challenge. In a multi-hop network, the conversion of a propagating wave back to electricity and back to a propagating wave at each node quickly accumulates unacceptable losses. Each of these transformations is relatively inefficient, and multiplying them by chain is impractical.

“The POWER program will develop efficient energy beam relays that redirect optical energy transmissions, maximizing beam quality at each point along the path, selectively harvesting energy as needed,” Calhoun said. “This is a three-phase development that will culminate in a convincing demonstration of powered relay flight.”

History has shown that breakthroughs in energy transportation, such as Roman roads, railroads, mechanized warfare, and aerial refueling tankers, which move energy more quickly and flexibly across the battlespace, provide a decisive military advantage.

“We believe the next energy revolution will be driven by the wireless energy grid,” Calhoun said. “It will dramatically reduce transportation times and sustainably provide distributed energy to consumers in the air, on land, at sea, under water and in space.”

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