Military wants petite, low powered unmanned aircraft to fit in tight spaces

DARPA wants to fund development of an unmanned aircraft that weighs less than 10 grams.

tiny uav
Scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) today said they wanted to fund the development of an unmanned aircraft that weighs less than 10 grams, uses less than 1 watt of power and can hover in place.

The agency today said it was looking to develop a nano-scale aircraft dubbed the Tele-operated and Hover In Place (TeleHIP) that can be operated remotely in places where GPS is unavailable. 

DARPA said such a teeny-weeny aircraft would be used in buildings or other closed or small locations. The idea is that the plane could easily gather intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in places that are very difficult to get at.

As are many DARPA research projects, at first glance the requirements for the TeleHIP unmanned aircraft seem daunting. For example DARPA wants:

  • Aircraft to weigh no more than 10 grams (less than 1lb) and consume no more than 1 watt of power.  The system should be capable of allowing a hovering aircraft to stay within a one-half meter diameter sphere without any operator input.  The system must be able to meet the above requirements in the absence of GPS signals. 
  • Aircraft should have a forward flight speed of the vehicle to be 3 meters per second and a maximum wind gust speed to be 2.5 meters per second. 
  • Aircraft should be able to autonomously avoid obstacles while under operator control in low speed translational and high speed flight.
  • System must offer innovative concepts and technologies that supersede or otherwise compliment traditional GPS and Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) avionics technology. The avionics system includes any sensors, processors, boards and wiring that are required to provide position and orientation feedback but does not include airframe, motor, control actuators.  And the unmanned aircraft will carry an imaging sensor so the operator can see what he is doing.
  • The system would be responsible for providing feedback to stabilize the aircraft in forward flight, hovering flight, and under gust conditions in a wide range of light conditions. 

The TeleHP is part of DARPA's  Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) program that seeks to develop and demonstrate an extremely small, ultra-lightweight unmanned aircraft.

Such diminutive unmanned aircraft are all the rage it seems.  For example, aircraft maker AeroVironment recently got $5.4 million to further develop a tiny aircraft that can fly into tight spaces undetected, perch and send live surveillance information to its handlers.  DARPA wants the company to develop the Stealthy, Persistent, Perch and Stare Air Vehicle System (SP2S), which is being built on the firm's one-pound, 29-inch wingspan battery-powered Wasp unmanned system.

The US Air Force recently said it will make extensive use of nano-unmanned aircraft capable of conducting a variety of indoor and outdoor reconnaissance sensing missions in its  Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047" report.

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