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In recent years, advancements in three technology areas, microelectronics, MEMS sensors, and GPS receivers, have allowed small UAVs to overcome critical deficiencies and become practical for insertion into the military mainstream. The maturation and commercialization of these technologies have resulted in readily available components that have decreased in both size and cost, to the point where truly low-cost, highly capable, small UAVs are possible. In particular, inertial devices such as MEMS accelerometers and angular rate sensors, pressure sensors, and magnetometers have reached the point where they are reliable, accurate, and affordable. These devices allow the determination of vehicle state with the precision required to enable autonomous flight. In addition, advanced microelectronic devices, such as digital signal processors, field programmable gate arrays, and microcontrollers have enabled sophisticated flight control functions, including fully autonomous flight using GPS waypoints. In combination, these advances have allowed small UAVs such as Pointer, Raven, and Dragon Eye to move into full-scale production and continue to allow the progression of UAVs into smaller and smaller packages. To address several of the deployment issues connected with small UAVs, a gun-launched version, along with the underpinning technologies, is under development. This device represents a clear departure from conventional UAVs with several clear advantages; however, it also contains severe design challenges, as well as test and evaluation dilemmas. An option of this type is envisioned not as a replacement for conventional small UAVs but rather as an augmenting capability.
Date of Publication: Sept. 2004