The aerospace and defense industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by the increasing capability and applicability of drones, coupled with falling costs, and the growing importance of technologies such as multi-sensor data fusion, drone modularization, and high-altitude platform stations (HAPS). In the last three years alone, there have been over 237,000 patents filed and granted in the aerospace and defense industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Drones in defense: solar dronesBuy the report here.

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Data Insights Drones in defence: Solar drones

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According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which uses over 206,000 patents to analyze innovation intensity for the aerospace and defense industry, there are 110 innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Solar drones is a key innovation area in drones

Solar drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that are powered by solar energy. They utilize solar panels or solar cells to capture sunlight and convert it into electrical energy, which is then used to power the drone’s propulsion system. Solar drones are designed to fly for extended periods without the need for refueling or recharging, making them a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional drones.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 30+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established aerospace and defense companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of solar drones.

Key players in solar drones – a disruptive innovation in the aerospace and defense industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.   

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.  

Patent volumes related to solar drones

Company Total patents (2021 - 2023) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Korea Aerospace Industries 1 Unlock Company Profile
Thales 32 Unlock Company Profile
Lockheed Martin 12 Unlock Company Profile
National Aeronautics and Space Administration 2 Unlock Company Profile
TCOM 5 Unlock Company Profile
IHI 5 Unlock Company Profile
CJ 3 Unlock Company Profile
Texas Instruments 8 Unlock Company Profile
TKC 25 Unlock Company Profile
CEA 1 Unlock Company Profile
Northrop Grumman 9 Unlock Company Profile
Gandini 5 Unlock Company Profile
U.S. Department of Defence 9 Unlock Company Profile
M&T Bank 1 Unlock Company Profile
Mitsubishi Electric 18 Unlock Company Profile
Raytheon Technologies 3 Unlock Company Profile
Boeing 53 Unlock Company Profile
Maxar Technologies 4 Unlock Company Profile
Airbus 25 Unlock Company Profile
EMCORE 1 Unlock Company Profile
Composite Technology Development 17 Unlock Company Profile
Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt 1 Unlock Company Profile
HADAL 9 Unlock Company Profile
Spire Global 2 Unlock Company Profile
SolAero Technologies 25 Unlock Company Profile
Raytheon 1 Unlock Company Profile
Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) 9 Unlock Company Profile
Comat 4 Unlock Company Profile
Liweijia 1 Unlock Company Profile
HD Hyundai 1 Unlock Company Profile
Triad National Security 2 Unlock Company Profile
LAT 1 Unlock Company Profile
Hanwha Aerospace 1 Unlock Company Profile
ThayerMahan 3 Unlock Company Profile
Solaero Solar Power 2 Unlock Company Profile
Jinling Inst Technology 1 Unlock Company Profile
Shanghai Aerospace Equipments Manufacturer 1 Unlock Company Profile
Shenzhen Kuang-Chi Spatial Technology 1 Unlock Company Profile
Redwire 13 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Boeing is one of the leading patent filers in solar drones. Aurora Flight Sciences, a subsidiary of Boeing that specializes in UAVs, has been granted patents for a solar-powered aircraft comprising a fixed wing panel, a motor-driven propeller, and a plurality of secondary wing panels, with each secondary wing panel comprising an array of solar panels on its surface and configured to rotate at least 180 degrees about its longitudinal pivot axis. It also holds a patent for a solar power system comprising a solar panel, a group of voltage controllable battery packs, and an electric motor connected to a propeller.

Aurora Flight Sciences is developing the Odysseus high-altitude long-endurance (HALE), solar-powered UAV, which will be powered by lightweight advanced solar cells to provide endurance and autonomy to a wide variety of missions and operations, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), weather and climate research, and communications.

Some other key patent filers in this space include Thales, Airbus, and Lockheed Martin.

In terms of application diversity, Texas Instruments, ThayerMahan, and Triad National Security are some of the leading patent filers. By means of geographic reach, some of the leading patent filers include Texas Instruments, Thales, and Airbus.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the aerospace and defense industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Drones in Aerospace and Defense.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.