July 03, 2009

DARPA Funds Phase 2 of Nano UAV Development - 10 gram Fake Hummingbirds

DARPA is providing following up funding to develop 10 gram UAVs (Nano Unmanned Aerial Vehicles- NAV) (4 page pdf) Phase 2 will end in the summer of 2010.

The U.S. Air Force is also funding a number of research projects in universities across the country. An Air Force Research Laboratory report, obtained by the Air Force Times and described in a recent article, suggests just where the Air Force wants to go with this research: The Air Force wants so-call Micro-Air Vehicles, or MAVs, about the size of a sparrow, ready to fly by 2015 and even smaller, dragonfly-sized drones ready to fly in swarms by 2030. Currently popular are Raven UAVs. They are about 4.5 feet across, weigh six pounds and can stay aloft for about an hour and a half.

The goals of the NAV program; namely to develop an approximately 10 gram aircraft that can hover for extended periods, can fly at forward speeds up to 10 meters per second, can withstand 2.5 meter per second wind gusts, can operate inside buildings, and have up to a kilometer command and control range; will stretch our understanding of flight at these small sizes and require novel technology development.

Nano air vehicles will be revolutionary in their ability to harness flapping wing, low Reynolds number physics, navigate in complex environments, and communicate over significant distances. Flight-enabling nano air vehicle system technologies being developed in the program include:
• Aerodynamic design tools to achieve high lift-to-drag airfoils;
• Lightweight, efficient propulsion and power subsystems; and
• Advanced manufacturing and innovative subsystem packaging and configuration layout.

The program will continue to develop conformal, multifunctional structural hardware and strong, light, robust aerodynamic lifting surfaces for efficient flight at low Reynolds numbers (<15,000). In addition, researchers will remain focused on developing advanced technologies that enable collision avoidance and navigation systems for use in GPS-denied indoor and outdoor environments as well as improving efficiency and stability in hovering flight and during the deployment or emplacement of sensors.

A micro aircraft(6 inches or less) in size and carrying all necessary systems on
board, such as energy sources and flight control sensors achieved 20 seconds of hovering in December of 2008.

The challenge of the Phase II effort will concentrate on optimizing the aircraft for longer flight endurances, transition capability from hover to forward flight and back, as well as reducing the size, weight, and acoustic signature. All of which are distinct technical challenges in their own right, that actually conflict with each other." Keennon elaborates. Dr. Hylton added, “There are still many hurdles to achieve the vehicle we envisioned when the program was started, but we believe that the progress to date puts us on the path to such a vehicle.”

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