The use of small, lightweight unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) on the battlefield has surged over recent years. Fitted with advanced sensors and cameras, the UAVs have proved a cost-effective way of providing vital intelligence to troops on the ground. Revolutionary technology could also mean that, for the first time, these tactical UAVs pack a punch with mini precision-guided weapons.
As reports emerge of a Chinese rival, Shenlong, Boeing recently successfully returned one of two unmanned US Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicles (OTV) to orbit, demonstrating the reusability of the platform. Berenice Baker explores capabilities and possible mission specifications of the classified X-37B programme, and speculates if Shenlong can match it.
Research into new materials could result in super-light unmanned aircraft that can heal damage on the wing, charge batteries from exhaust heat or use a completely clear wood derivative through which sensors can work. Berenice Baker investigates the innovations that could drive a whole new generation of UAVs.
Keeping unmanned aerial systems aloft and their surveillance and communications payloads operating to full capacity is a careful balancing act between available power and drain. Berenice Baker investigates cutting-edge research into power conservation by Cassidian that includes biologically-inspired power conservation and modulating reflected optical transmissions, rather than fuelling an onboard light source.
Research to enable dogfights between enemy UAVs will see 100 combat drones battle it out in a 2015 competition. Berenice Baker investigates the technical and human challenges facing a research team who are aiming to have their aerial battle bots dominate the sky, in a bid to inform future battles between military drones.
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