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Drones have arrived in US airspace, and now they are multiplying. By 2022, 700,000 of the little unmanned aircraft could be exploring American skies, according to the FAA, delivering packages, monitoring traffic, inspecting bridges, and filling other yet to be discovered niches. To do that work, every last one will need electricity to spin its rotors and run its sensors. Most will get it from batteries they take with them to work. Some might pull from the grid directly, using tethers.

And, if a Swiss company has its way, some could stay aloft thanks to some help from diamonds.

Lasers actually—shot through diamonds. If this sounds like the sort of dilithium crystal setup that powered the Starship Enterprise, well, it’s not all that far off. Lasers have long been considered potential solutions for beaming electricity straight to drones, by focusing their light on photovoltaic cells affixed to the small aircraft. Darpa, the US Army, independent research groups, and private companies are all investigating the idea.

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Category: Science