Top Innovators: LaserMotive

From left: Jordin Kare, Tom Nugent and Dave Bashford of LaserMotive, with a model of an experiment in remote refueling.

LaserMotive is revolutionizing energy with a technology called “laser power beaming,” a method of transferring energy from an electrical power supply to a receiver using a laser beam instead of a wire.

President and CEO Tom Nugent was a project scientist at Intellectual Ventures, where he worked on the “Photonic Fence,” a system with the goal of fighting the spread of malaria by using lasers to blast mosquitoes out of the air. He co-founded LaserMotive in 2006 with aerospace engineer Jordin Kare, the develper of the Photonic Fence, who has more than 20 years’ experience developing laser technology and is the company’s chief scientist. Dave Bashford, who previously served as a laboratory manager at Philips Oral Healthcare, signed on as chief administrative officer.

The new company won the $900,000 prize at the NASA-sponsored Power Beaming Competition in 2009, when it was the only team to successfully get a robotic elevator to climb 900 meters up a cable suspended from a helicopter. To minimize the robot’s weight, the team powered it from a separate energy source on the ground and employed a laser beam to send the electricity to special solar cells mounted on the robot.

The company is currently applying the technology to unmanned aerial vehicles. With laser power beaming, an aircraft could stay aloft indefinitely without having to return to the ground for refueling. Longer term, Nugent believes power beaming will be adopted for applications like disaster relief. After the earthquake in Haiti, rescue workers had to bring generators with them to Port-au-Prince. In the future, power could instead be beamed from ships offshore. Lasers could also be applied to send solar energy from orbital satellites to the surface of the Earth. Wherever LaserMotive goes from here, the company has already proven its ability to tackle problems with new ways of thinking.

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