Grand Challenges: On-board Energy Harvesting for Long-endurance Earth Observation UAVs
The need for effective, low-cost Earth observation tools remains one of the barriers to improving our ability to predict and mitigate the effects of climate change. In recent years, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have emerged as a promising platform for the acquisition of environmental data. However, challenges remain that prevent UAVs from achieving their full potential as an Earth observation platform. One of the most prominent is the limited power available in the vehicle’s on-board batteries, which results in reduced range and endurance of the vehicle. The objective of this project is to address this challenge by developing on-board energy harvesters that enable the UAV to recharge its batteries on-site. The main innovation is the use of existing components on the UAV to harvest energy, minimizing added weight – a critical characteristic for on-board feasibility. In particular, the project will exploit aeroelastic phenomena on the UAV’s wings to harvest energy. The UAV will function in two modes: energy harvesting when on land and flying when in the air. This could help significantly improve current Earth observation capabilities. The acquisition of high-resolution large-area data of the Earth system will improve predictions and modelling of its evolution, resulting in the development of better methods and regulations to alleviate climate change. Additionally, this work will open the door to the development of UAVs that can perform continuous monitoring of remote areas to detect fires, oil spills and other catastrophic events, critical to minimizing the effects of these disasters.