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News

Unmanned Systems Now Sci-fact Rather Than Sci-fi


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Adept Scientific Plc
: 25 April, 2009  (Special Report)
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) and autonomous robotic technology is a rapid growth area on a global scale, attracting serious government and Ministry of Defence funding even in today's tough economic climate. That's because UV technological advancements are highly valued for a wide range of potential uses, including civil applications such as police, fire service and coastguard surveillance, power and pipeline inspections, mobile phone and broadband services, as well as environmental monitoring and particularly military purposes.
Unmanned Systems Now Sci-fact Rather Than Sci-fi
In fact, the use of robotic combat aircraft is fast becoming a reality of modern warfare. Servicemen have been reaping the benefits of UAV technology for several years, with UAVs and UGVs appearing on the battlefield in a variety of different roles, principally for observation and reconnaissance ahead of, or during, military operations and the disposal of unexploded ordnance. Such technology saves lives, reduces costs and improves national defence capabilities soldiers are expensive and breakable. UVs can do dull, dirty or dangerous work better, cheaper and with less risk.

UAV and UGV technology has made significant strides in the last decade. These days it's entirely feasible to fit the vast array of sensor systems required into an unmanned aircraft. Sensors and weapons payloads have been miniaturised, systems are smaller and more capable, new data link networks provide sufficient bandwidth for UAV command and control, payload release and data transfer. Improved microchip capabilities, better software, integrated navigation and GPS systems have all helped to make almost autonomous flight possible.

Technical computing software specialists, Adept Scientific, have witnessed the growth in UV-related research and development. They supply a range of cutting-edge data acquisition and control equipment from Quanser and United Electronic Industries (UEI) perfectly designed for autonomous vehicle projects.

Quanser already have extensive experience in control design for unmanned vehicles and systems. They've developed high-performing hardware capable of remotely controlling physical systems, collecting data from remote hardware and tuning parameters on the fly through wireless connection. Such technology has already been used to create a haptically-enabled Unmanned Ground Vehicle that can feel the bumps and forces applied to the steering wheel, and adjust motion for smooth operation. The UGV can be driven using a joystick or can motor autonomously to a given location using its on-board GPS. This is part of an ongoing UV project that aims to integrate commercial-off-the-shelf unmanned vehicles into a fully autonomous, multiagent network that can be set up without intensive programming or detailed technical knowledge. Other vehicles used in the mission include a fixed-wing Zagi UAV and an X6 Draganfly Helicopter with six motors, onboard GPS and autopilot.

They've also developed new Avionics hardware and software which will soon be available for UAV research to study concepts such as swarm theory, coordinated flying and phased arrays etc, with applications in resource and security monitoring, search and rescue operations, military operations and automated traffic reporting. Quanser have also created a mobile robot called Qbot with possible application to a number of unmanned autonomous vehicle projects.

The latest addition to Quanser's fleet of innovative aerial vehicles is ALTAV a new Almost Lighter Than Air Vehicle incorporating an 11-foot helium filled envelope with the Quanser Control Module (QCM). The ALTAV resembles a blimp with four motors mounted to the sides of the envelope, with each motor connected to a servo-actuated arm for additional degrees of freedom on the motor.

United Electronic Industries (UEI) has developed their own box of tricks that ticks all the boxes for aerospace engineers looking to monitor the many different systems commonplace in all kinds of aircraft autonomous or not! UEI's revolutionary PowerDNA 'Cube' and RACKtangle Ethernet-based data acquisition devices are compact enough to suit the strict space/weight constraints of cockpits. They can easily process multiple inputs/outputs typical of flight applications, yet achieve low power consumption. Each chassis is easy to set up and can be configured to suit virtually any I/O requirements by selecting from over 25 different I/O boards and inserting them into the slots. Both the Cube and RACKtangle support the Avionics industry standard ARINC-429 and MIL-1553 data buses, accept binary data from virtually any RS-232 device and are able to provide a GPS receiver to log position and velocity data. Despite the miniature footprint, UEI PowerDNA devices offer maximum environmental and physical ruggedness, perfect for turbulence or extreme flying and the rough terrain often experienced by ground vehicles.


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