A team led by University of Missouri-Rolla researchers has been selected by the United States Air Force to develop ideas for a new technology that could eventually power unmanned aerial vehicles and cell phones.
The UMR team and a team from the California Institute of Technology are phase-two finalists in a special Air Force Campus Challenge Competition. Each team has been awarded $150,000 to develop ideas into an official plan, and those plans will be presented to the Air Force in January of 2006. The winning university will receive funding of up to $6 million to use over eight to 10 years for the development of the final technology.
Dr. Fatih Dogan, a professor of materials science and engineering at UMR, is leading the Rolla-based effort. He says the Air Force, which is developing systems with electrical requirements that can exceed the capabilities of known energy sources, is looking for a revolutionary source of compact power to replace conventional energy systems like batteries.
In phase one, several university-based teams were required to submit a formal "white paper" or proposal. Dogan was informed that the UMR team was selected as one of two phase-one winners during a recent trip to the Air Force Research Laboratory in Eglin, Florida.
"I feel we have a very strong team," Dogan says. "It won’t be limited to our existing team. We can reach out to others, including those in the private sector, for ideas."
Because of the nature of the competition and the military implications, a lot of the technical details aren’t available to the public. But Dogan says the new energy source, which will be compact, lightweight and extremely long-lasting, is expected to be used to power unmanned aerial vehicles, autonomous terrestrial micro-robots, artificial intelligence systems and other military devices.
As is the case with most military innovations that begin with a long-term vision, Dogan says the technology should eventually trickle down to the public for conventional usage in devices like laptop computers and cell phones.