Laser Technology for Drones

Following our recent post on drones, here is a story on a Germany company that is leading the way in laser technology to deliver Internet to remote places using drones and satellites.

See our previous post: Drones and Anti-Drones: German Start-up Dedrone

The wingspan of the drone is about 60m which is almost the same as a 747 aircraft, but it also weighs less than 400 kilos. It is difficult to imagine how this strange unmanned aircraft was even able to lift off on a military base in Arizona last summer.

Behind the Aquila drona project is Tech, the Facebook technology group, whose leader wants to connect people in poorer countries and remote regions to the global Internet network. Today, a total of four billion people remain without Internet access, according to Mark Zuckerberg. The plan which Zuckerberg proposes needs drones such as Aquila which with solar-powered motors will one day stay in the air for a longer and so connect people with Internet from the air.

Zuckerberg is not alone with this plan: Companies such as Google, SpaceX or One Web have also been working on balloons, drones and satellites for Internet delivery for several years… and companies are particularly dependent on laser technology for transferring data to the earth.

A key component for the drones or satellites will come from the German start-up Vialight Communications. “We are cooperating with several large North American companies,” says Wolfram Peschko, CFO.

Vialight, based near Munich, is a spin-off of the renowned German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and has been developing so-called laser terminals for several years. The advantage of lasers is that extremely high data volumes can be transferred. The Vialight product is capable of transferring data volumes of up to ten gigabits per second, says the company. This would correspond, for example, to the parallel transmission of 2,000 Netflix streams in HD.

The laser terminals of Vialight can be installed in drones or satellites, but also in airplanes where it is possible to send high-resolution pictures directly to the ground by laser. After a period of complicated development the company is now about to go into commercial production.

Markus Knapek and Joachim Horwath founded the start-up, and the two researchers worked on laser technology at the DLR for many years. “The technology was developed so far that the step towards marketable products could be realised,” explains Peschko. The research centre proposed the spin-off and continues to support Vialight, meanwhile 40 people are working for the company. The start-up uses the technology via a license agreement with DLR.

Photo credit: Material used in the preparation of this article has been drawn from GruenderSzene.


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