Tech

Radar and laser breakthroughs serve humanitarian ends


After a disaster, damaged water and electricity infrastructure can turn a local crisis into a national disaster. “When hurricanes and earthquakes cause utility infrastructure to collapse, such events become major disasters,” says Kasmi. “And downed electrical systems hamper recovery efforts, when lights for nighttime rescue operations are turned off or essential facilities such as hospitals and telecommunications systems are shut down.”

Power transmission, which delivers power in the form of a beam wirelessly through aerial platforms, can make a significant difference to the ability of first responders to find and rescue people. Survive in an emergency. Energy transfer can help get energy systems up and running long before damaged utility infrastructure can be repaired.

“While innovations like solar-powered communications help, the prospect of mobile, pop-up energy installations that can generate electricity or plug into infrastructure,” explains Kasmi. A functional grid will transform the humanitarian recovery process.”

Laser output power

Defined as the transfer of electrical energy from one point to another by a directional electromagnetic beam, radiant energy can be done via laser or microwave. While microwave-based approaches have a longer history, laser-based approaches are showing great promise in recent trials and demonstrations. Laser-based beam generation offers the advantage of a narrower focus, allowing for smaller transmitters and receivers to be installed.

Laser irradiation takes electricity from an existing source, turns it into light using a laser, and shines it through open air—also known as “free space”—or through an optical fiber. At the receiving end, specialized solar cells that match the wavelength of the laser convert that intense light into electricity.

Kasmi explains why this technology is at the heart of DERC. “It could significantly boost humanitarian aid after disasters, as the world prepares to face more frequent extreme weather events.”

There is no shortage of demand, as climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather and temperature events. In September 2022, Hurricane Ian swept across the southeastern United States, leaving 5.1 million homes and businesses no electricity, some for five days or more. During the monsoon floods in Pakistan in the summer, the government dispute to protect power plants and power grids. September 2022, Typhoon Noru in the Philippines left millions of people without electricity. Even local hazards can cause serious damage to energy systems, such as the severe freeze in Slovenia in 2014, which left 250,000 people without power for 10 days due to damage to utility infrastructure.

Kasmi said there are still technical hurdles to overcome for energy transfer, such as finding ways to support longer-distance transmission and improving efficiency. And a proactive public education campaign is needed to allay fears or unfounded health concerns surrounding laser technology. However, energy transfer has the potential to become a powerful new ability to support the human population in a century of preparation for more extreme natural disasters.

While improvements in direct-energy technology are often noticed in areas ranging from autonomous vehicle navigation to powering low-orbit satellites, their humanitarian applications have can demonstrate the greatest variability. Ground-penetrating radar and laser-based energy beams are just two examples of the uses of directed energy to support humanitarian preparedness, response and recovery, with the potential to improve safety, health, and safety. and the lives of millions of people worldwide.

This article is produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by the editorial staff of the MIT Technology Review.

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