DARPA fellowship funds airborne recharging study for UAVs

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded funding for continuing work into wireless technology that recharges unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in flight.

Dr. Ifana Mahbub demonstrates the Millibox anechoic chamber measurement setup for characterizing the antenna’s performance - The University of Texas at Dallas

Dr Ifana Mahbub, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at The University of Texas at Dallas, has been awarded the DARPA Director’s Fellowship to continue her far-field wireless power transfer (power beaming) research that could have applications beyond UAVs.

“Our first goal is to deliver as much power as possible over a longer distance,” said Mahbub, a Texas Instruments Early Career Fellow and director of the Integrated Biomedical, RF Circuits and Systems Lab in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

One of the challenges of power beaming at far distances is preventing electromagnetic waves from scattering along the way. To solve that problem, Mahbub and her team use phased-array antennas to steer the electromagnetic waves along a targeted path.


“The signal can go in undesired directions,” Mahbub said in a statement. “Our goal is to engineer the waveform so that we can minimise the path loss.”

The technology also uses telemetry to track the movements of a UAV in real time to ensure the signal moves in the right direction.

“We can track the unmanned aerial vehicle and steer the beam to ensure we are constantly powering the dynamic vehicles,” said Mahbub. “That way, a drone going for a mission doesn’t have to return to a bay station for recharging or a battery change.”

She said the concept of far-field charging for UAVs applies to other technologies including electric vehicles, mobile phones and wearable devices.

Mahbub also is working on developing wireless charging technology for implanted devices that could use low-frequency electromagnetic waves at a safe level that is mandated by the US Federal Communications Commission.

Mahbub’s team of researchers on the project includes electrical engineering doctoral students Adnan Patwary and Rafsan Mahin; and Dr Sunanda Roy, postdoctoral research associate.

Mahbub, who joined UTD in 2022, received a five-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award in 2020.

DARPA awards the fellowships to its Young Faculty Award recipients who demonstrate exceptional performance. Mahbub received a Young Faculty Award, which provided $500,000 over two years, in 2021. The fellowship provides an additional $250,000.