The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is pioneering a groundbreaking laser-based technology named the Persistent Optical Wireless Energy Relay (POWER), designed to transfer power over vast distances. While generating electricity is only one part of the equation, delivering it efficiently to distant locations is equally crucial. Traditional methods often rely on aging wires, prompting DARPA to explore wireless energy transmission.
POWER aims to beam energy from a ground source to a remote receiver, potentially revolutionizing military applications. For the U.S. military, this innovation holds the promise of providing unlimited range to aircraft and vehicles. Aircraft could loiter for extended durations, eliminating the need for complex and risky in-flight refueling. Tanks, no longer constrained by fuel limitations, could extend their range significantly.
However, several challenges must be addressed to make this technology practical. The primary limitation is that lasers operate on a line-of-sight basis, requiring a direct view of the target for efficient refueling. To overcome this, relay stations positioned in the upper atmosphere may be necessary to minimize degradation caused by air or water vapor. Additionally, vehicles must maintain stability and alignment with the target during the charging process.
Currently in its initial phase, the POWER system is conceptual, focusing on designing devices to act as relays. The subsequent phases involve implementing the technology in existing aircraft and eventually transmitting 10 kilowatts of electricity (sufficient to power a five-bedroom home) to an aircraft from a distance of 125 miles.
Beyond military applications, the breakthrough in this technology could have widespread civilian uses. For instance, envisioning a space-based solar power system capable of beaming electricity directly from a generator to homes worldwide. While DARPA’s primary mission is to prevent wartime surprises, its continuous innovations have far-reaching implications for both military and civilian sectors.