Force Magazine

 Small Wonders
 Technology requirements continue to increase for UAVs

By Atul Chandra

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are now being widely used both for military and civilian purposes. Between 2009 and 2011, the US Air Force (USAF) trained more initial qualification pilots to fly UAVs than fighters and bombers combined. The Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs), as the Indian Air Force (IAF) prefers to call UAVs, have come a long way in a very short span of time.

Only five years ago the state of UAV technology was being described as similar to that of the personal computer in the early Eighties. Since then the processing power, sophistication of payloads and software algorithms to handle information have improved exponentially.

The improved capability of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) today makes them an ideal choice for paramilitary, police and homeland security applications too. UAV technology is probably unique in that much of it is available off-the-shelf. It is the final integration with the platform, software and ground terminals that unlocks the performance. Here's a look at some of the developments in the UAV/UAS arena.

Nano UAVs:
Nano UAV technology has taken off in the recent past. While the larger and more expensive drones receive attention, Nano UAVs are already being provided to soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Interestingly, the problems with Nano UAVs remain the same as that on their far larger companions, while platforms are surprisingly easy to find, integration of the sensors to provide useful capability in such a small package is difficult to do. Many of them are not bigger than the size of your fist and look like toys at first.

However, making these systems robust enough to handle weather variations, develop line-of-sight control systems and the tiny sensors that send back surprisingly clear images has been a costly exercise. Despite being small they are extremely complex and perform at the limits of aerodynamics and need high power conversion efficiency (for propulsion) along with high endurance and agility. They have to be able to navigate and communicate over appreciable distances. High lift-to-drag airfoils; lightweight and efficient propulsion and power systems; guidance, navigations and communication subsystems; advanced manufacturing, innovative subsystem packaging and configurations layouts all need to be mastered before a Nano UAV can deliver on its promise.

DARPA’s Nano Hummingbird
DARPA’s Nano Hummingbird

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