US shells out $10M for unmanned aircraft that can perch like a bird

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WASP III

Unmanned aircraft maker AeroVironment got an additional $5.4 million to further develop the diminutive aircraft that can fly into tight spaces undetected, perch and send live surveillance information to its handlers.

Last Fall, AeroVironment, got $4.6 million initial funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop the Stealthy, Persistent, Perch and Stare Air Vehicle System (SP2S), which is being built on the company's one-pound, 29-inch wingspan battery-powered Wasp unmanned system.

According to DARPA, the key technical challenges of the new aircraft include:  multifunctional materials that integrate the SP2S airframe structure with the power supply and transmit/receive antennas; advanced aerodynamics and control systems, including the ability to land and return home automatically; perch-and-grip technology; micro miniature pan/tilt/zoom EO cameras; (5) autonomous image capture; and data link communications relay capability with multiple digital channels that enables beyond-line-of-sight communications, with data/video encryption.

Experts say the ability to actually fly in and perch like a bird will be one the more technically challenging aspects of the system.

DARPA said the purpose of SP2S is to verify the utility of such a small perch and Stare system (currently no such system exists).  DARPA said additional work was required to take the military users feedback and refine/upgrade the system to meet diverse requirements of a wide group of users.  This task would then result in the delivery of ten upgraded systems for further testing.

The US Air Force last year gave the go-ahead for full production of the ASP III unmanned aircraft designed to be used for special battlefield operations such as targeting and tracking.

 The AeroVironment Wasp III carries interchangeable targeting payload modules, including an infrared camera, along with two integrated color cameras that transmit streaming video directly to the hand-held ground controller for display on an integrated monitor. It has been procured under the Air Force's Battlefield Air Targeting Micro Air Vehicle (BATMAV) program.

BATMAV systems are expected to let military personnel see over hills and beyond their line of sight in real time and in low light. The unmanned aircraft are highly portable, durable and can be launched by one person. The BATMAV aircraft are expected to fly at an altitude of 500 feet, at about 40MPH and staying aloft for up to 90 minutes at a time.

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