Michael Carter • CEO • IXI Technology
As the adoption and use of unmanned vehicles (air, ground and undersea) continues to grow, the next five to eight years will see an acceleration of technology adoption across the board for military, security and commercial applications; however, with that, standards and safety regulations must catch up.
For commercial markets, government regulations are behind the curve in addressing safety and privacy issues related to the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Public safety dictates commercial UAVs be equipped with fail-safe systems to ensure ground safety in the event of aircraft failure or loss of communication. Auto Takeoff and Landing (ATOL) capabilities currently used only on large, sophisticated UAVs, should be mandatory for all UAV’s.
FAA regulations dictate unmanned aircraft meet “See-and-Avoid” criteria, which includes both Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Visual Flight Rules (VFR). Without a pilot on board, a UAV cannot be operated under VFR. Efforts to change “See-and-Avoid” to “Sense-and-Avoid” is a long time away because there are no standards for sensor systems, either on board the aircraft or on the ground, which would provide a fail-safe for operation.
Military challenges in deploying more unmanned vehicles at an affordable cost are compounded because there is a lack of commonality among the vast number and types of unmanned vehicles; each branch has different requirements and range of mission objectives.
Regardless of market, there are unsolved technology challenges. Challenges include processing huge volumes of data collected by onboard sensors, identifying usable information, storing and or transmitting the information to a manned station, taking autonomous or controlled action, and being able to operate for a period of time supported by an onboard power source.
Military unmanned vehicles currently record and store the majority of information collected by onboard sensors. Data collected and stored are analyzed upon return of the unmanned vehicle. Obviously, information that is many hours old may not have any value. Streaming data is limited by line of sight, transmission power, bandwidth and data rates. Reducing the time between detection and action is a challenge for both hardware and software developers. Obviously, this is most critical for weapon systems where even a few seconds difference in response time can determine success or failure.
Hardware and software designed from the start to eliminate bottlenecks in the data path is part of the answer. This goes for individual processors as well as the architecture that enables them to cooperate efficiently in a cluster. Starting with an intense focus on power management, IXI Technology is applying this rigorous design approach to its new processor line, taking into account the synthesis of hardware and software to produce a “fat pipe” of usable information generated on board the UAV.
The future for unmanned vehicle command and control also includes increasing standardization and interoperability. The Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Control Segment (UCS) architecture is a framework developed by the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force along with industry to define a common functional architecture adopted by each of the Services as a common basis for acquiring, integrating and extending the capabilities of the control systems for UAS.
UCS is good for industry because it does not define a certain set of hardware or software, leaving COTS suppliers latitude to develop open systems while ensuring interoperability with military and defense defined interfaces for command and control, sensor and weapon interfaces.
The increased use and proliferation of unmanned vehicles for military and defense and commercial uses faces many government and technological hurdles. By the time technology hurdles are overcome, the world may have changed, requirements will have changed and government regulations may still be lagging behind.