The future of UAV technology aims high
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.