Drones Now Have an AC/DC Soundtrack, via Laser Beam

What is it about technology and Aussie rock band AC/DC? In July a computer hack led to the band's track Thunderstruck belting out at top volume in an Iranian nuclear power plant. Now AC/DC's signature hit Highway to Hell is riding on a laser beam that's being bounced off a drone in mid-flight. When the beam is reflected to a ground sensor the full glory of the music is reconstructed without a cymbal crash out of place.

Don't worry, it's not a new sonic weapon. To make drones lighter and and operate longer reconnaissance missions without refuelling, Yoann Thueux and colleagues at EADS Innovation Works in Newport, UK, eschew the heavy radio equipment and antennas used to beam acquired video back to base. Instead, they are developing a laser reflector called Dazzle that can simply add the drone's acquired video data to a laser beam bounced off the craft's belly by a tracking system up to 2 kilometres away.

After the laser beam enters the reflector, it passes through a transparent switch, called a light modulator, that adds the digital zeroes and ones of the video data to the beam. The light then hits a mirror and is reflected back to the spot it came from - carrying the video data. The tech will allow a speed boost to 1 gigabit per second - easily allowing faster delivery of HD video, which struggles to top 20 megabits per second with radio frequencies.

The reflector and its ground UAV tracking system began tests on a disused runway at a former Royal Air Force base in Pershore, UK, last week. The first test aimed to see if the system could simply reflect an encoded laser beam from a moving eight-rotor helicopter drone, the Okto from Mikrocopter of Germany.

Thueux thought Highway to Hell a great choice of data to stream on the laser. "It was on my iPod and I thought it would be a good song to go first because I know it completely by heart. I'd be the first to tell if the technology was not working properly on playback."

So what tunes might will fly are next? "I happen to be in a band, so maybe one of our tracks," says Thueux. "But a colleague is also suggesting Fly Me To The Moon."


Drones Now Have an AC/DC Soundtrack, via Laser Beam New Scientist reports, explores and interprets the results of human endeavour set in the context of society and culture, providing comprehensive coverage of science and technology news.