News | Nov 2, 2017

11 intriguing drone technologies that you’ll want right now

Developed in defense labs, these UAV technologies are available for product development

News Article Image of 11 intriguing drone technologies that you’ll want right now

Tim Giles pilots a drone during the ThunderDrone Tech Expo in Tampa, Fla., Sept. 5, 2017. The expo provided an opportunity for industry, national laboratories and academia to discuss and promote new and innovative drone technology with the special operations community. (Master Sgt. Barry Loo/Air Force)


Whether you call them Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs), drones are quickly growing in popularity with commercial, industrial and military customers. They are still in the early stage in terms of development and mass usage, but drones have already flown over tall barriers in industries that otherwise seemed closed to technological improvement.

And after seeing the success our friends at the Doolittle Institute are having with their ThunderDrone Tech Expo, we couldn’t help but compile a list of some marvelous drone technologies that were developed in and available from defense laboratories.

That’s right, the following drone technologies are available to small businesses and UAV startups.

And TechLink, the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary, is waiting to help those businesses–at no cost–secure these drone technologies.

UAV Power Line Detection, Avoidance

Army scientists and engineers have developed a sensor and software system for detecting energized power lines in the vicinity of an aerial craft. The method includes using sensors located on the aerial craft to measure electric and magnetic fields in the vicinity and determine the orientation of the power line based on these electric and magnetic field measurements. Alternatively, detection can be achieved using a Poynting vector. The Poynting vector is the cross product of the electric field and magnetic field and runs parallel to the lines. Normalized values of the sensor data may further be calculated, as these values can provide consistent detection thresholds vs. distance, regardless of the magnitude of the voltage/current values of the power lines.

Precision Ground Measurements from UAVs

Michael Yeh, left, and Gary Lunt, NSWC Corona engineers, demonstrate their invention. (Greg Vojtko/Navy)

Navy researchers have developed an aerial platform based measurement system configured to operate in a variety of locations to measure distances, determine ground points, analyze speed of moving objects, and perform other velocity measurements and analyses. The UAS platform is configured to establish a measurement or coordinate area in which to detect objects, distance between objects relative to each other, and the velocity of objects moving within the area. The system includes an inertial measurement unit to determine attitude, a global navigation satellite system, a scaling unit and a gimbal control unit. The system could be used for speed monitoring in both law enforcement and recreational or professional sports settings.

Supervision and Control of UAVs

To meet the demands of controlling multiple UAS, Air Force researchers have developed a UAS pilot display input controller and computer system which monitors and directs the current and future operating status of each aircraft. A “predicted noodle tool” is executed by the computer and configured to indicate the future path of the UAS and generates a predicted path or “noodle segment” on the display. A “directed noodle tool” is executed by the computer to indicate a pilot-adjusted future flight path by generating a directed noodle segment on the display. An input device mode selector is connected to the computer to selectively map the input device to either manipulate a control surface of the RPV, or to manipulate the directed noodle segment.

RAPIER Full Motion Video

RAPIER FMV is a maritime target detection, tracking, and identification solution that quickly and automatically analyzes video, alerts analysts of important targets, and outputs target information. At the core of RAPIER FMV is an object detection system that uses basic signal processing and machine learning approaches. The system maintains a high level of performance without making prior assumptions about foreground-background characteristics. It is robust to variations in illumination, ever-changing background characteristics, and video quality; as well as abrupt changes in the perspective, size, appearance, and number of targets. RAPIER FMV also uses a unique horizon detection method that aids in improving processing times. Applications for this technology may include search and rescue, vessel tracking, counter-piracy, and harbor or port security.

Biomimetic Flapping-Wing Micro Air Vehicles

Biomimetic Flapping-Wing Micro Air VehiclesAir Force researchers have designed and developed a tail-less, biomimetic flapping-wing micro air vehicle that is controlled by utilizing the motion of the flapping wings themselves. By manipulating a few variables that govern the periodic motion of two wings, the time-averaged forces and moments that are applied to the FWMAV can be directly controlled. A resulting implication is that the number of vehicle degrees of freedom controlled can exceed the number of actuators that physically exist on the FWMAV, thereby shifting complexity from mechanical elements to software. Present levels of development allow roll and yaw rotations and horizontal and vertical translations to be controlled using two brushless DC motors or piezoelectric actuators that drive each wing independently.

Precision Aerial Delivery Systems

The snowflake airdrop system in testing. (Naval Postgraduate School)

One of the missions of the Naval Postgraduate School–Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems Center is to support the development of precision aerial delivery systems to enable conventional aircraft or autonomous vehicles to deliver payloads at high offsets onto a target area with near pinpoint accuracy, minimizing risk to the airdrop craft and limiting the need for ground vehicle convoys. Use this series of related technologies to deliver products exactly where your customers need them.

Flexible Wing for Small UAVs

Illustration of the flexible wing structure

Patent illustration of the flexible wing structure.

Small unmanned aircraft systems, also known as micro air vehicles, are promising tools for a variety of military and commercial applications. Some small UAS have flexible wings and are lightweight, making them back-packable and easy to deploy. Most UAS that are currently available have limited extended communications ability and short battery life. To enhance communications and battery life without increasing weight and sacrificing deployability, Navy researchers have conceptualized a flexible wing that incorporates electronics, sensors, fuel cells, and can self-erect upon receiving thermal stimuli.

Power Line Sentry Charging

Patent illustration of the Power Line Sentry.

Patent illustration of the Power Line Sentry.

Are those birds sitting on a telephone wire? Nope, it’s a flock of small UAVs recharging on power lines. This patented technology allows drones to clandestinely collect propulsion and other energy needs from a conveniently located–and possibly enemy owned–energy transmission line. The vehicle parks on the transmission line and charges up using a current flow dependent, magnetic field determined, rather than shunt, voltage dependent, conductor coupling. And all the while the UAV continues its surveillance.

UAVs Launched from Water

Patent illustration of the pneumatic launch tube.

This awesome invention is a deployment system for a water-based launch of a UAV. It is comprised of a pneumatic launch tube surrounded by a support structure. The structure includes an inflatable bladder to suspend the tube at a specified depth of water, with a telescopic weight below the tube to insure proper orientation. The launch angle is adjustable in relation to the support structure, which allows for a degree of freedom in aiming a variety of drones. This feature also allows for differences in wind speed and direction, as well as the current state of the sea. To power a launch, the system may use a compressed air tank, a track guided actuator, or a spring loaded device.

Optimized Route Finding Software for Air and Ground Vehicles

Data Image

An optimized route mapped on Google Earth.

The Automated Impacts Routing (AIR) software is already in use by the military and provides users the ability to find optimized paths through airspace or ground space taking into consideration multiple and dynamic adverse conditions that can determine mission success or failure. While most routing algorithms have limitations, such as finding a path using pre-defined networks, AIR uses entire grids for multiple levels (3D) to be ingested, with values of adverse conditions, e.g., weather, for each grid cell defined for the entire grid. AIR execution results in an optimized path not necessarily along a predefined network, lending a complete solution that may not have otherwise been considered. The web service version of AIR is capable of asynchronously calculating optimized paths avoiding adverse conditions and obstacles at multiple resolutions, taking multiple user-defined waypoints (mission critical points to travel to), platform speed, risk level, and 3D volumes/obstacles to avoid as inputs.

Collisionless Flying of UAVs

Soldier pushing Shadow on runway.

An unmanned aerial vehicle technician returns an RQ-7 Shadow to the VMU-4 hanger at Camp Wilson. (Lance Cpl. Stanley Moy/Marine Corps)

The Army has developed a system and method for ensuring collisionless flight of three or more UAVs. Collisionless flight is achieved by overlaying a circulant digraph with certain characteristics over the area to be flown. Circulant digraphs are a type of directed graph, or a set of vertices connected by arcs or directed edges of set jump sizes and which have a direction associated with them. Each drone is then assigned to a flight path corresponding to a directed cycle of the circulant digraph where each vertex of the circulant digraph corresponds to two waypoints. To maximize coverage, each of the vertices of the circulant digraph may then be updated such that they satisfy two tests: a convexity test and an isosceles avoidance test. The updated waypoint may then be relayed from a control station to each drone.

Interested in adding these technologies to your business? Get in touch with TechLink’s experts for no-cost licensing assistance. Want more? Search TechLink’s database of available technologies for more opportunities to grow your business.

Up next: How to license technology from defense laboratories

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