Military system designers are continually turning to proven, standards-based platforms such as VPX, MicroTCA and Computer-on-Modules (COMs) to reach interoperability program objectives. However, each must also be weighed for its ability to meet SWaP and thermal management requirements of the airframe and its mission.

Imaging and Sensor Data Support

UAVs have strict SWaP requirements and also must meet ever-increasing communication bandwidth, computing performance and data collection needs. Standardized COTS chassis can be adapted to meet certain application needs such as specific thermal management requirements. Because of SWaP and other system layout limitations, many UAV designers typically select a conduction cooling methodology (with or without fan assist).
It would have seemed impossible just a few short years ago to support the massive amount of visual content and other data routinely collected by UAVs today. This, coupled with the need for real-time remote monitoring and video streaming, as well as the integration of attack capabilities, requires a much higher level of computational performance. If designers are to rely on embedded computing platforms to support new UAV operational needs, they must deliver exceptional computational performance. Luckily, the latest featurepacked, high-performance and high-bandwidth embedded computing solutions, combined with high-density storage capacity, are available and up to the task of handling the computational- intensive demands and ever-increasing use of sensors in UAV designs.

High Reliability/Availability in Harsh Environments

Continuous, reliable operation of all system elements within the specified environment is critical to success over the life of any UAV application. Therefore, it is important that the selected embedded computing solution be placed into a chassis or enclosure that is manufactured to meet the requirements of MIL-STD-810 for environmental, shock and vibration. Enclosures that meet these standards assure that the system, along with the electronics and computing components, will be able to withstand extreme temperature, vibration, shock, salt spray, sand and chemical exposure in a sealed and temperature- controlled chassis.

It is wise for designers to select the thermal management and mounting solution at the outset. It is the ability to leverage pre-qualified COTS platforms that can also be optimized or tailored to suit the unique thermal equation needs of each UAV airframe or program that makes for a solid foundation at the start of a design.

Finding the Right Solution

Kontron COBALT (Computer Brick Alternative) illustrates a versatile COMsbased design approach. COBALT provides UAV designers with a small-footprint, low-power and efficient thermal design that supports fanless operation in severe environments. Its computing performance can be scaled based on specific application requirements – from very low power Intel Atom processor-based implementations to powerful Intel® Core™ i7 processor systems. Handling operating temperatures ranging from -40°C to +71°C, COBALT is compatible with a full range of ground system and UAV requirements.
Unfortunately, no single computing form factor is applicable for all UAV designs. That means that developers must evaluate a select group of standards-based options and match them to the outlined capability goals of the UAV design such as payload, networking and the compute-intensive processing, analysis and dissemination of data. Because there continues to be increasing demand for net-centric UAVs, these designs need to be supported by platforms that provide higher bandwidth and computing performance.

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