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New Generation Solar Cell Designed to Empower Autonomy for UAVs and Other Vehicles
Alta Devices' Gen4 solar cells can be used to power UAVs, automobiles, sensors, and more. (Photo: Business Wire)
Technology Is Reported to Improve Power-to-Weight Ratio by 160 Percent
SUNNYVALE, Calif.–Alta Devices (https://www.altadevices.com/) recently launched its fourth-generation solar cell technology, Gen4, which is reported to weigh significantly less than previous generation (Gen3) technology while providing a power-to-weight improvement of 160 percent. The technology, said to be critical for tomorrow's unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), solar cars, and other electric vehicles, can be used to generate substantial power over small surfaces with minimal impact to vehicle design criteria.
"Autonomy in the air and on the ground is becoming a reality," said Jian Ding, CEO of Alta Devices, in a press release. "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."
Autonomous power is critical because each sensor, processor, or communication device that is added to increase system capabilities simultaneously increases power demand. For example, in order to be of practical use for applications like remote internet connectivity, a high-altitude, long endurance, unmanned aerial vehicle (HALE UAV) needs to add sensor-based avionics and navigation, in addition to reserving power and weight budget for communications payloads. The addition of more batteries or energy sources adds weight and bulk, but the energy supply is still limited to only a few days due to aircraft weight limitations. Alta's solar technology is said to easily integrate into the surface of the aircraft or vehicle without upsetting aerodynamics, while providing an abundant supply of power.
Alta said that if, instead of crystalline silicon, its Gen4 technology had been available and used on the Solar Impulse 2, a large solar powered aircraft, the result in weight savings would have been up to 100kg. The technology would have also provided up to 15 percent more solar power, according to Alta. The benefits for operations would include a larger service ceiling, faster rate of climb, and the ability to operate at higher latitudes in winter while carrying more sophisticated and capable payloads, the company said.
Alta Devices' Gen4 product is a lightweight, flexible solar cell produced with single-junction GaAs technology. Alta has now transitioned its production to Gen4, using cells that are significantly thinner than the previous generation while continuing to improve electrical performance. This translates to going from a ratio of 240 g/m2 to 170 g/m2 at the matrix level, including cell-to-cell interconnects, ribbons, and protective diodes. The reduced thickness of the Gen4 cells is also said to result in a smoother, conformal, and more aerodynamic surface when integrated into solar vehicles and UAV platforms.
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