Skeeter-Zapping Laser Entrepreneur Turns Sights on Space Power

LaserMotive plans to beam power to drones, and eventually deliver solar power from space to Earth

A laser-obsessed entrepreneur whose mosquito-zapping project demoed at the TED 2010 conference has bigger plans for energy beams. Tom Nugent envisions using lasers to deliver energy over long distances — whether that means juicing up an aerial drone’s batteries or beaming solar space power down from orbital satellites, according to Xconomy.

Nugent’s skeeter-killing project came from his past work for Intellectual Ventures, the invention company which enlisted Microsoft-founder Bill Gates to file a patent on a geoengineering scheme to limit the destructive power of hurricanes. But Nugent has since moved on to found a power beaming company called LaserMotive, along with physicist Jordin Kare.

The idea of harnessing lasers to deliver power to a receiving solar cell has slowly gained traction over the years. A U.S. company called Solaren signed an agreement with California-based Pacific Gas & Electric to supply space-based solar power by 2016.

Japan also plans to launch its own solar power satellite by 2015, as a precursor to a larger model that would provide power to 300,000 homes. Europe’s biggest aerospace company, EADS Astrium, would put its own solar-collecting demo satellite into orbit by the end of the decade. Such projects have also drawn plenty of skepticism.

But LaserMotive has taken smaller, concrete steps to build up its business. The company claimed NASA’s top space elevator prize of $900,000 by having fielding the only robot to climb to the top of a cable at a speed of more than 4.5 mph — all based on beamed laser power. Nugent and Kare also hope to dominate the Level 2 space elevator competition in the fall, which requires teams to go about 11 mph up the same cable.

The company’s first business opportunity might come from beaming power to small drones that run on electric batteries, so that they could remain aloft for longer. Nugent also hopes to perhaps beam power to disaster relief efforts down the line.

LaserMotive’s best existing lasers can deliver a kilowatt of power over a quarter of a mile, as long as clouds or fog don’t interrupt the beam. They won’t slice people in half like lightsabers, Nugent notes — but they can still pose a hazard to unwary eyes.

[via Xconomy]