Alta Devices, a Sunnyvale, California firm, launched its fourth-generation single junction GaAs solar cell technology (Gen4). The company says that its Gen4 solar cell technology weighs significantly less than the previous generation. This lower weight translates to a 160 percent improvement in the power to weight ratio, making it crucial for future unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), solar cars, and other electric vehicles. Alta Devices asserts that the technology can generate substantial power over small surfaces with minimal impact on vehicle design.
“Autonomy in the air and on the ground is becoming a reality,” said Jian Ding, Alta Devices CEO. “While there has been much discussion, thought, and progress on the ‘eyes, ears, and brains’ for these vehicles, there has been little focus on autonomous power. Autonomy diminishes in value when range is compromised. Because Alta’s new generation solar cells have such a high power-to-weight ratio, we are moving closer to realizing a vision of vehicles that never have to stop to refuel.”
Autonomy in the air demands autonomous power because each sensor, processor, or communication device added to increase capabilities also increases the demand for power.
For example with applications such as providing remote internet connectivity, a high-altitude, long-endurance, unmanned aerial vehicle (HALE UAV) needs to add sensor-based navigation and avionics, in addition to minimizing power needs and the weight budget for communications payloads. While adding more batteries or energy sources adds weight and bulk, such sources are limited to only a few days of energy supply because of aircraft weight limits. However, Alta Devices says that its solar technology can be easily integrated onto the surface of the aircraft or vehicle with minimal impact on the aerodynamics.