IARPA strives to create innovative portable power sources

Future unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets may be able to operate in hot conditions for extended periods of time if further research into energy sources bears fruit. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects (IARPA) activity has launched a program to develop portable power sources for unmanned and autonomous systems operating in extreme environments.

Known as the Robust Energy Sources for Intelligence Logistics in Extreme, Novel and Challenging Environments (RESILIENCE) program, the effort draws on the expertise of businesses and universities to build energy sources, largely batteries. , which can provide extended power supply in the face of conditions that otherwise undermine conventional batteries.

The result could be unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have a longer wander time as well as leave-and-forget devices with extended life that can kick in after a long period of inactivity under environmental conditions. difficult.

The IARPA awarded eight research contracts to industrial and university teams. The call for proposals focuses on performance rather than technology, explains Dr Dawson Cagle, IARPA Program Manager for RESILIENCE. “The targeted need is for energy sources that can be extremely reliable under the most demanding environmental conditions, where the safety of our employees depends on it,” he adds.

“This is the very first funded research effort the intelligence community has ever put forward on energy storage,” Cagle says.

Batteries are the core of most research, although a team is looking to build a Stirling engine small enough to fit in the space occupied by an AA battery, Cagle reports. Battery research represents a significant departure from conventional lithium-ion batteries, with companies pursuing a wide range of technologies.

Cagle describes an approach that would use molecules like an enzyme to speed up discharge rates and create larger pulses of power. And larger power pulses are one of the goals of IARPA. Many drones require surges for specific maneuvers such as vertical landing at the end of extended flight. Cagle foresees the possibility of quiet electric airplanes capable of long flight times and periods of hovering. These functions tend to be power hungry, he notes.

Other efforts are aimed at using solid-state technology to build high-energy batteries made of non-flammable materials. “Overall, we’re looking to double the energy that a commercial power solution can currently deliver,” adds Cagle. The shelf life would also be increased tenfold compared to existing commercial technologies. The ability to survive large changes in temperature, humidity and vibration is another environmentally focused performance goal.

The success of the RESILIENCE effort could generate spinoffs in the commercial sector, suggests Cagle. He notes that the proposal’s metrics are designed around a space that is only slightly larger than an AA battery, so these innovations could be used in consumer handheld devices and the Internet of Things. On a larger scale, technologies could eventually find their way into vehicles and even airplanes.

The U.S. Army’s Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Cyber, Intelligence Oversight and Reconnaissance Center will test and assess emerging RESILIENCE technologies. Describing the center as an essential partner of IARPA in this program, Cagle explains that he brings extensive experience in battery testing and development. “They have a very rich history with this area,” he says.

Rosemary C. Kearney