News Feature | June 29, 2022

Bright Ideas — Laser Systems Needed To Refuel UAS, Everlasting Laser Built With BEC

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By Abby Proch, former editor


DARPA is looking to industry for solutions that would retool existing refueling aircraft for the purpose of charging UASs will via laser energy.  Open until July 11, the request for information asks for technologies or solutions that enable these refueling planes to expand their roles as airborne energy wells, which could also lead to them becoming part of a larger “web of power generation.”

Researchers have developed an everlasting laser built with Bose-Einstein Condensate BEC), allowing it to operate in perpetuity thanks to super cold temperatures and a reservoir of strontium atoms. By forcing atoms to act as contained waves, researchers were able to get them to assemble in a BEC. The BEC exists with the continual supply of atoms and constant cold temperatures. According to an article published in Nature, the BEC creates a continuous-wave (CW) condensate of strontium atoms. The continuous operation allows for higher bandwidths than pulsed operations, and the CW laser could have applications in quantum sensing.

Inspired by the bioluminescence of lightning bugs, researchers have developed featherlight nanoscale flying robots with light-up wings that can enable light-based communications. About the weight of a paperclip, these nanobots have the ability to fly, and be tracked, where other UAVs cannot. The tracking of the tiny drones is done by way of iPhone cameras and a computer program that are nearly as accurate at determining position and altitude as high-tech IR motion capture systems. Next steps include developing control signals that would allow the nanobots to flash their lights on and off to communicate like real fireflies.

Knowing the number one cause of bridge collapse globally, a UK-based researcher has developed an optical sensor will alert of scour — the washing away of riverbeds and river banks — before a collapse occurs. Queen’s University Belfast researcher Myra Lydon has submitted a patent for the technology, with its scant on details. According to Lydon, the technology will detect scour even when no visible damage or distress is apparent. In 2019, the UK reportedly recorded 8.2 million impacted passenger journeys at a loss of £60 million due to scour.

In business news, Lumentum has penned a multiyear agreement with IQE for its VCSEL epitaxial wafers, or epiwafers, to be used in applications such as automotive lidar, 3D sensing, and optical communications. The arrangement will enable high-volume production of IQE’s epiwafers, particularly for automotive lidar use, and support the advancement to 200 mm-diameter epiwafers, rather than 100 or 150 mm, for VCSEL production.

Finally, Hamamatsu Photonics’ subsidiary Photonics Management Europe S.R.L. will soon take over NKT Photonics for 205€ million after it was divested from NKT. NKT Photonics is considered a leading supplier of high-performance fiber lasers and photonic crystal fibers. NKT will reportedly turn its whole focus toward power cable solutions.