The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has enlisted Raytheon for the design and development of a wireless, airborne relay system aimed at delivering energy into challenging environments as part of the Energy Web Dominance program. Under a two-year, $10 million contract, Raytheon will create the Persistent Optical Wireless Energy Relay (POWER) system, employing high-altitude unmanned aircraft equipped with laser-based power receiving and transmitting capabilities.

The POWER system is designed to beam energy to high altitudes and relay it across multiple jumps to reach the intended target area, which could be on the ground or another autonomous aerial platform. This innovative approach creates an “energy web,” enabling military logisticians to route energy rapidly where it is most needed. The system offers the potential to provide indefinite endurance to land, sky, or sea-based robots or redirect energy strategically as required.

While the POWER system offers flexibility and a supply line in the sky, there is a drawback in terms of energy efficiency. Approximately 20% of energy may be lost during the conversion of electricity to light in the laser, and another 50% may be lost when converting the laser back to electricity at the receiver. However, the benefits of eliminating personnel risks associated with moving energy in a war zone and the ability to harness energy from abundant sources outweigh these efficiency concerns.

Col Paul Calhoun, POWER program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, describes the system as the “internet for energy,” emphasizing its resilience and ability to flow energy from abundant sources to energy-starved consumers. DARPA sees potential applications not only in military contexts but also envisions the technology contributing to distributed power in civilian life. Calhoun believes the wireless energy web could revolutionize energy distribution, compress transport timelines, and provide resilient distributed energy across various domains, including air, land, sea, undersea, and space.

By Impact Lab