Posted by: robotnews | March 30, 2006

Your eye in the sky – The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

Martin Wiig – s0500296

An unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, is an aircraft which is either self-controlled or remote-controlled. It can carry different payloads, such as sensors, cameras, radar and weapons, all depending on the use of the UAV, which may be quite varied. For civilian use, the UAV’s have mainly been used for fun and recreation in the form of model planes, and also in research. In the military however, the UAV’s have a role of ever increasing importance. From simple model planes used to train anti-aircraft gunners after World War 1, to the V1 bomb of the german Luftwaffe, to the complex, more or less autonomous aircraft of today, such as the Fire Scout and Predator. These are used for tasks such as reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, assesment of damage after a battle, target acquiring for artillery and ship bombardement and so on. They can even carry weapons to be delivered to the enemy, luckily still with a human hand on the trigger. Currently, at least 700 unmanned aerial vehicles are being used in Iraq.

Three modern UAV’s, two of them in use and one of them still undergoing testing, are described in this posting. All of them are part of the American RQ series.

RQ-1: Predator
The RQ-1:PredatorThe Predator is a propeller driven air vehicle 27 feet in length and with a wingspan of 49 feet. It is able to operate for more than 40 hours at an altitude of up to 25 000 feet with a cruising speed of over 130 km/h and a range of 740 km. The aircraft is part of a system of 4 planes, one ground control station (usually a van) and a satellite communications system. It is equipped with a satellite dish for communicating with the ground control station, with infrared sensors, cameras and radar, and may also be equipped with weapons.

The Predator has been empoyed by the U.S.A. in Bosnia since 1995, and it is also in use in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s main uses are, as with most UAV’s, reconnaissance, but it is also capable of carrying up to 14 Hellfire missiles. The Predator became (in)famous when it was used by the CIA to assassinate six suspected terrorists in Yemen in 2003, the first ever attack by an unmanned aircraft outside a theatre of war. The Predator has a bright future in the U.S, as the Pentagon plans to buy at least 219 Predators over the next five years.

RQ-2: Pioneer
The Pioneer was an early bird among modern military UAV’s. It began service as early as 1985, when it was employed by the US Navy. It had several teething problems though, facing for instance electromagnetic interference from the ships it launched from, leading to several crashes. A USD 50 millon research and development project was consequently launched, bringing the Pioneer to a level of “minimum essential capability”.

In spite of this, the history of the Pioneer is a history of success. It was used extensively during Iraq War 1, where it carried out reconnaissance, target acquiring and battle damage assessment missions, among others. It became famous when a group of Iraqi soldiers surrendered to the Pioneer, fearing the ship bombardement that usually followed an overpass. This was the first time human soldiers surrendered to a machine, and is thus a landmark (if a somewhat scary one) in the history of robotic warfare.

The Pioneer is smaller than the Predator, with a length of 14 feet and a wingspan of 17 feet. It is a propeller driven aircraft and has a range of 185 km, a cruising speed of 120 kmh and operates at altitudes up to 15000 feet. The pioneer is also used by the Israeli.

RQ-8: Fire Scout

The Fire Scout is an unmanned robotic helicopter still under development and testing. It showed an amazing degree of autonomy when it, whitout interference from human hands, was able to land on an aircraft carrier moving at 27km/h. Landing at an aircraft carrier is known as the most difficult part of piloting a navy plane, as it requires the pilot to have very good reflexes to adjust to the ship as it pitches and rolls. The Fire Scout may thus also lead to the development of automatic landing systems for manned planes, surely a great relief for pilots.

In conclusion, it is clear that the future of unmanned aircraft vehicles is bright from a military perspective. But is killing and war all these machines can be used for? Certainly not. As the technology becomes more and more advanced, UAV’s are more than likely going to enter civilian life to a higher degree. I can easily envision UAV’s for use of monitoring rainforests and other endangered enviroments, for natural research, spraying of fields and so on.

For interested readers, Wikipedia offers several links to open-source UAV projects on the net.

References:
General information on UAV’s:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unmanned_aerial_vehicle
http://www.fas.org/irp/program/collect/uav.htm
http://www.uavforum.com/library/photo.htm
http://www.marinetimes.com/story.php?f=1-292925-1649125.php

About Predator:
http://www.fas.org/irp/program/collect/predator.htm
http://www.airforce-technology.com/projects/predator/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RQ-1_Predator

About Pioneer
http://www.fas.org/irp/program/collect/pioneer.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RQ-2_Pioneer

About Fire Scout
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RQ-8A
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/business/20060119-9999-1b19scout.html

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Responses

  1. Imagine a war in the future in the comfort of a command posts. Aircrafts, tanks all in the field battle, unmanned.
    But this could pave the way for many frontier exploration using unmanned vehicles, like the deep depths of the sea or space exploration. It’s like an extension to the seminar given by DSO today, where there are bomb disposal robots in development.
    I can even link the idea to self driven cars like those in the movie “I, Robot”, it would like taking a public transport, only the driver belongs to you as well.

  2. S0500130 Andreas Roupe

    The UAV can be very useful for surveillance. For example protect the rainforest.
    It is a interesting question to use these robots in war.
    Because then you will have a war between machines and why have a war when no people is involved???

  3. u0204569 Tan Wen Pin

    Perhaps Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) should start training its people in computer games like Star Wars and Wing COmmanders.

    Afterall, the future seems to be in remote controlling of warring devices.


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