AeroVironment is testing a new digital datalink for its family of small UAVs including Wasp, Raven and Puma. In addition to improving the performance and security of traditional line-of-sight control, the datalink will serve as a sort “Ethernet hub in the sky,” according to marketing director Steven Gitlin. The datalink’s hub capability will allow an operator to relay control signals via one drone to reach other drones that otherwise might be blocked by obstacles or terrain – and to bounce video from distant drones back the operator. The net effect is that the new link digital “will allow a customer to operate more aircraft in a piece of airspace than today,” Gitlin says, adding that the datalink has been demonstrated using U.S. government funding.
AeroVironment’s small UAVs represent the most numerous military UAV, with more than 5,000 airframes flying with the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and the Australian, Italian and Singaporean militaries. Two years ago the Army selected the second-generation Raven B for its newest tactical UAV, aiming to buy as many as 6,000 aircraft plus handheld control consoles and spares; the Marine Corps and Special Operations Command followed suit. The Marines want as many as 500 Raven Bs to replace their Dragon Eye “Tier I” drones that have seen hard use in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gitlin says the firm has already delivered around a third of the Army’s Raven Bs. Now the firm is trying to expand into the civil and non-military sectors. Gitlin confirms interest from the FBI, the U.S. Border Patrol and private companies involved in infrastructure security.
Originally published in Defense Technology International.