June 2001

A Solar Glider for Neverending Flight
(until the sun goes down)

Actually, solar robotics of any kind is quite fascinating to me. Sunlight is absolutely totally free. In fact, it's going to waste all around us. Why not simply scoop it up since it's hitting our robot anyway and use it for something. Solar power on a ground-based robot is a serious problem because Earth is far enough away from the sun that the amount of energy that hits a given area at Earth's distance is pretty small. As a result, a robot would have to lug a round some pretty ungainly solar panels. However, flying robots already have tons of surface area, their wings. Once again, I say put these areas, being continually bombarded with solar energy, to good use.

I'm not the first person to suggest solar powered airplanes and gliders, not by a long shot. However, I do think it's really cool. Quite simply, there is enough solar energy hitting the wings of a model glider to power the glider's internal servos. I'm not totally certain that this is the case if a powerful radio transmitter is installed (for remote controlled flight) or if a powered plane (propeller or jet) is being used, but for an autonomous robotic glider that doesn't have to receive instructions from the ground and doesn't use powered flight, there is easily enough energy available. A robotic glider using solar energy could stay aloft literally all day long. There are no batteries that would otherwise run out of steam. It is even possible that there is enough power to charge up batteries for powered flight during the nightime and that the glider could thus stay in the air indefinitely. I might try to build an autonomous robotic glider and if I do, powering it with solar power is something that I may strongly consider incorporating into such a project.