Unmanned Vehicles (UAV/UAS) have proven to be vital, strategic new weapons in the military’s arsenal by providing needed critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities as well as the ability to strike enemy forces. The complexity and diversity of UAV applications and their underlying computing systems present some of the most difficult design challenges for developers. Military designers have to contend with a long and multifaceted list of requirements that challenge the limits of embedded computing technologies. For instance, UAV systems need the highest performance computing for sensor, data collection/distribution and image processing that must fit within strict size, weight and power (SWaP) constraints. Plus, these systems must also be highly ruggedized to survive and perform reliably in the most demanding and harsh operational environments.

Meeting Complex Design Requirements

Every UAV airframe has a defined set of requirements that is specific to each type’s unique operational objectives. There is, however, a group of key requirements for embedded computing platforms that is shared by all to ensure the successful deployment of UAV system programs.

Standards-Based Interoperability

The mandate for interoperability and connectivity demands that military OEMs design around a common set of airframes based on standard interfaces and interoperable ‘plug and play’ payloads as opposed to developing multiple systems dedicated to separate tasks. This calls for increased computing and communications capabilities and greater real-time operational control. Designers must also consider that UAV systems are becoming more complex and now must support ground stations and other systems besides the actual aircraft, so embedded platforms must be able to support multiple tasks. As an example, many UAV programs must include multiple functions and sensors in its payload such as vision and radar systems along with heat, biological, electromagnetic and chemical sensors.

In addition, the military has initiated new UAV programs that feature onboard intelligence able to make real-time adjustments to mission parameters for truly autonomous flight. This highlights how UAVs have become more sophisticated, and calls into service the latest advancements in embedded computing to deliver the increased levels of connectivity in highly interoperable standards-based platforms. Accom plishing this convergence of capabilities enables UAV missions to be tightly integrated with other land-sea-air assets as well as unmanned ground vehicles, and is one of the most innovative developments in this new era of integrated battlefield applications.

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