How Big Can Be a Solar Powered Drone?

Aircraft that can take off and land directly without the need for a runway – such as helicopters and quadcopters – are attractive for personal, commercial and military applications as they require less physical space and infrastructure compared to traditional fixed wing planes. A team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has achieved a major step forward in stretching the capabilities of quadcopter drones by powering the flight solely by natural sunlight.

A first in Asia, the current prototype has flown above 10 metres in test flights – higher than a typical three storey building – utilising solar power with no battery or other energy storage on board.

This solar-powered drone, which was developed as a student project under the Innovation & Design Programme (iDP) at NUS Faculty of Engineering, can take-off and land vertically without a runway. Constructed using lightweight carbon fibre material, the quadcopter drone weighs only 2.6 kg, and has a surface area of about 4 sqm. It is fitted with 148 individually characterised silicon solar cells and supported by a frame equipped with four rotors.