Alta Devices Launches Gen4 Solar Cells For UAVs and Other Vehicles

May 24, 2018 Rich Nass

Alta Devices, a leader in single-junction solar cell efficiency, recently launched its fourth-generation solar cell technology, aka Gen4. A key feature of the technology is that it weighs significantly less than Gen3, offering a power-to-weight ratio improvement of 160%. Such technology is critical for applications like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), solar cars, and other electric vehicles. It can be used to generate substantial power over small surfaces with minimal impact to vehicle design criteria.

Autonomous power is essential because each sensor, processor, or communications device added to increase system capabilities simultaneously increases the power demand. For example, to be of practical use for applications like remote Internet connectivity, a high-altitude, long endurance, unmanned aerial vehicle (HALE UAV) needs to add sensor-based avionics and navigation, in addition to reserving power and weight budget for communications payloads. Adding batteries or other energy sources adds weight and bulk, and still may not delivered the required power.

As a specific example, is Alta’s Gen4 technology had been employed on a large solar powered aircraft, such as the Solar Impulse 2, rather than crystalline silicon, the weight savings would have been up to 100 kg. And it would have provided up to 15% more solar power.

Alta Devices Gen4 product is a lightweight, flexible solar cell produced with single-junction GaAs technology. The cells used are significantly thinner than the Gen3 product with better electrical performance. This translates to going from a ratio of 240 g/m2 to 170 g/m2 at the matrix level, including cell-to-cell interconnects, ribbons, and protective diodes.

About the Author

Rich Nass

Richard Nass is the Executive Vice-President of OpenSystems Media. His key responsibilities include setting the direction for all aspects of OpenSystems Media’s Embedded and IoT product portfolios, including web sites, e-newsletters, print and digital magazines, and various other digital and print activities. He was instrumental in developing the company's on-line educational portal, Embedded University. Previously, Nass was the Brand Director for UBM’s award-winning Design News property. Prior to that, he led the content team for UBM Canon’s Medical Devices Group, as well all custom properties and events in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Nass has been in the engineering OEM industry for more than 25 years. In prior stints, he led the Content Team at EE Times, handling the Embedded and Custom groups and the TechOnline DesignLine network of design engineering web sites. Nass holds a BSEE degree from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

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