Student-build “Solarcopter” powered solely by the Sun's rays


March 27, 2013

 Queen Mary students have created a solar powered remote controlled helicopter-prototype which can be used for multipurpose applications

Queen Mary students have created a solar powered remote controlled helicopter-prototype which can be used for multipurpose applications

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A team of masters students from the Queen Mary, University of London is hoping to develop the world’s first photovoltaic multi-copter. Dubbed "Solarcopter," the team's creation is a solar powered remote controlled helicopter-prototype designed for multipurpose applications.

“The Solarcopter was inspired from the love of flight, and the urge to do something different for the aviation industry,” the Queen Mary students told Gizmag. “When the realization came that there were no solar powered helicopters in existence, it seemed like a great engineering challenge to take on.”

The very first Solarcopter prototype was designed to fly solely from energy generated from a photovoltaic panel, but with the assistance of a reserve battery that was also charged by the copter’s solar panel. “The reserve battery was used whenever the panel could not provide the required power to keep the helicopter in the air, such as cloudy weather,” said the students.

Since then, the students have been able to further enhance the model so it can fly, take off and hover without the need of the reserve battery. “With the current design it will fly for as long as the Sun shines in theory and we have tested this experimentally for a substantial amount of time,” the students explained. “There is still a lot of work to do, but we are pleased to say that we have proved that it works.”

To date, the process has been a lengthy one for the students, as most of the Solarcopter parts are handmade and the students have even designed their own Sun simulator for testing. The team has conducted extensive experimental tests in order to maximize its potential and have modeled many different aspects of the design using various engineering software to develop their understanding and the prototype further.

When developed further, the students say the Solarcopter will be useful for a range of applications such as; surveillance, search and rescue, cheaper transportation, and even traffic management.

“What you must realize is that this concept has the ability to increase flight, and therefore increase the range of traditional helicopters, but also give a solar aircraft the hovering and maneuvering abilities of a helicopter,” explained the students. “These attributes, coupled with the cost effective energy source to run the concept make it very special indeed.”

The students are currently working hard on refining their design with the hope of further enhancing the prototype so they can add cameras, GPS systems, and other useful components that could aid it in its various applications.

"We are still looking for opportunities to reduce the weight of the current design and increase the thrust. We are also working on improving our stability and control of the aircraft and at the same time finding areas where we can further increase its efficiency," said the students. “The ideal goal would be to reach a feasible design that is strong, light and powerful enough to conduct all the purposes mentioned.”

You can see the Queen Mary students hard at work on the Solarcopter project in the video below. Unfortunately, there's no vision of the Solarcopter actually flying, but such video is promised. For now, the still images are the only evidence.

Source: Queen Mary University of London via Designboom

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema. All articles by Bridget Borgobello

Great engineering let down badly by that uninspiring video segment...


I noticed thy did not say how much it weighs nor did they give a payload weight. And it can only fly in daylight.


I would this could go somewhere, but the next generation would have a graphene nanotube powerstorage in its structural framework, and the photo voltaics would be coated on the the blades and the exposed surfaces instead of some large heavier plate. This should allow the caring of small loads(less weight from PV plate), and allow for power storage in low light or no light times.


This is amazingly innovative. To think the breakthrough that these guys have made. I also love the fact that it has multiple applications! Great work guys! Inspiring!!!


Commendable achievement, though I might add, inevitable due in large part to advancements in photovoltaic and brushless motor efficiency.

One must remember that less than 10 years ago, small electric helicopters were solely the domain of the experimental.


Good Job, i hope they are able to develop this so that it could carry a decent payload, but obviously that will prove to be very difficult as it must be extremely light to be able to be powered by the sun.

Still good on them for making an objective and accomplishing it, doing something that hasn't been done before.


With solar technologies using the light weight high conductibility of grapgene alongside the advancement of battery storage and maintaining that storage, I can really see this innovation taking off.. literally. Also there is a group on kick starter that is developing a human powered helicopter. I wonder, could these techniques be combined?

Kalab Wood

Dayflier, unless it stores energy for PM use. Scary if Govt uses for "snooping" around UK, London.

Stephen Russell

I don't doubt that they were able to get off the ground with a pre-charged batterie. That in itself is a challenging feat given the weight of the PV panel. But are we supposed to believe that this UAV is able to fly as long as they want in bright sunlight? Even with the lightest PV cells and the most efficient motors, the math just doesn't add up. The structure they built is beautiful and I'm sure the goal is someday achievable, but given the small amount of information available in the video, I don't think they're there yet.

Dennis Roberts

I'd looked at these on amazon- anywhere from 49$ on up (minus pv). problem was the batteries were twice that and only gave 5 to 10 minutes flight. PV for longer flight times would be very marketable. I'd buy an affordable one, what about some kind of retrofit for other brands of 'quadcopters'? (The one inside a ball that bounces off stuff ....)


LOL " designed their own Sun simulator" - Oh the irony of developing solar-powered-anything in grey and rainy London :-)


Consider; 1) A cell phone, clean communications, camera, GPS, self powered, light weight, good range, reliable. 2) Six blades can stay airborne with the failure of one unit. 3) Super/Ultra capacitors, large storage capacity, lighter weight, fast charging, large temperature range. 4) Less propeller pitch, will eliminate gearing weight. 5) Non-stretchable cellulose, will adds more strength than weight to the trusses. 6) Tether power the entire unit until it reaches altitude.

Carl Knox
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