National University of Singapore Completes Solar-Powered Quadcopter Drone Flight

The University has successfully test flown Asia's first entirely solar-powered quadcopter above 32.8 feet of altitude.

National University of Singapore

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has conducted Asia’s first solar-powered quadcopter flight above 32.8 feet (10 meters) of altitude last week, according to the NUS press release

The vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) drone was developed by engineering students in the Innovation and Design Program (IDP). Its carbon fiber body netted a final weight of a mere 5.73 pounds (2.6kg), and it’s comprised of 148 unique silicon solar cells, four rotors, and a surface area of 43 square feet (four square meters). 

“Our aircraft is extremely lightweight for its size, and it can fly as long as there is sunlight, even for hours,” said Associate Professor Aaron Danner from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Unlike conventional quadcopter drones, our aircraft does not rely on on-board batteries and hence it is not limited by flight time. Its ability to land on any flat surface and fly out of the ground effect in a controlled way also makes it suitable for practical implementation.”

The NUS, and the city-state as a whole, has been at the forefront of unmanned aerial vehicle technology for quite some time now. Earlier this year, the NUS’ partnership with Airbus resulted in the country’s first parcel delivery. Intel celebrated the country’s 52nd birthday with a 300-drone light show last year, and most recently, the government has given the Future Flight Consortium the go-ahead to refine and implement a wide array of urban drone applications in Singapore. 

Let’s take a closer look at what the NUS has achieved here, shall we?

The drone, which could essentially serve as an aerial solar panel, can fly autonomously via GPS or be piloted remotely. This could feasibly alleviate those in disaster areas in need of emergency power and makes it comparable to Facebook’s abandoned Aquila project, which was intended to provide similarly afflicted regions with internet access. 

While the NUS did develop a solar-powered quadcopter in 2012, it was only capable of being powered exclusively through the sun for 45 percent of the time. This latest prototype is entirely independent of onboard batteries or electric power and is wholly charged by free energy from the sun. 

Ultimately, this is a great step in the right direction. Harnessing free solar power, using limited resources, and intending to use the final product for humanitarian purposes, is essentially the most admirable and impressive use of time, dedication and resources that an unmanned aerial technology project could hope for. While the engineering students at NUS have only recently completed building this drone and successfully test flown it, they can be proud of their achievement and continue looking forward to actually implementing it for the good of all at some point in the near future.