The future of UAV technology aims high

By Skyler Frink
In spite of the budget cuts that loom over the industry, the future of UAVs is still looking bright.

Boeing in particular is excited about what the technology that may come to be in the next few years. With the A160 Hummingbird having shown that UAVs can have an extended presence and reach impressive heights, the predictions on the show floor push the envelope even more.

Future UAVs may be capable of reaching heights that are over double or triple what the A160 can reach and stay in the air for months at a time. These UAVs would resemble gliders with solar panels to maintain power and sensor arrays. Rather than rely on satellite imagery these UAVs would give warfighters persistent situational awareness.

Of course, UAVs have been trending towards other extremes as well. Tiny UAVs that can be flown through open windows are in the works. These miniscule aircraft will stay airborne in times measured in seconds or minutes while giving valuable information to soldiers on the ground without giving away their position like a thrown ground vehicle might.

In addition to new technical capabilities, the future of UAVs is trending towards automated systems. Rather than having several personnel monitoring a UAV, in the future it is expected that one person can monitor many different UAVs at once. The Hummingbird is an example of a step toward automation, with the ability to fly to land without any assistance with high accuracy or perform a number of similarly complex feats without human guidance. Automation frees up soldiers to perform other tasks and ultimately is a cost-saving measure, as less personnel are needed for UAV flights.

These UAVs aren't just the product of wishful thinking, they have either already been made (in the case of tiny UAVs) or are currently in the Research and Development phase. Between the cutting-edge technology and the tangible optimism at the Army Aviation Association of America Exposition, the budget cuts seem like a non-factor for innovators in the industry.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

December 2013
Volume 24, Issue 12
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