Last March 5th, 2014 I visited UNVEX'14, the III Congress of Unmanned Vehicles in Madrid (Spain). Companies as Airbus, Thales, Indra, or General Atomics showed their creations to a group of visitors from different segments of industry and military.
|K150 unmanned aircraft from Unmanned Solutions Company|
What first surprised me was the amount of UAVs showed, over any other kind of unmanned vehicles. QinetiQ, a British multinational defense technology company was the unique company showing one of their Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle Dragon Runner 10, a highly specialized system, light enough to be thrown over obstacles for reconnaissance missions, the DR-10 readily accepts a quick-attach manipulator arm for discovering and attacking threats. It is equipped for a wide range of applications, especially in congested urban settings – including: ordnance disposal, reconnaissance, inspection, and security. QinetiQ is well known for its robot TALON, the most widely used bomb disposal robot in the world today, with a cost of about $60,000 in its standard form.
|Dragon Runner from QinetiQ|
They were several companies offering multirotor drones of different shapes, sizes and purpose. From those capable of flying with hard rainy and windy conditions, with 8 propellers, payloads of up to 2,5kg and 90 minutes flight time, to smaller units with 3 or 4 propellers, 30 minutes autonomy and 300g payload for narrow places. All of them with a variety of auto stabilized cameras (daylight and IR), manual or autonomous flight based on waypoints and automated vertical take-off and landing (VTOL). Companies like AV Aerovironment, Microdrones, Aibotix, AeroTools or Everis Aerospace and Defence showed their creations.
Also they were companies offering their unmanned aircraft systems, like the well known Predator C Avenger produced by General Atomics, a 20m wingspan drone, with a price of $12 million to $15 million widely used in by the United States Army in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.
Some other companies like AV aerovironment, SurveyCopter, Indra, Mavinci, Expace, Geotronics, Unmaned Solutions, Everis, INTA or Thales showed their own unmanned aircraft solutions. This sort of equipment is in most of the cases formed by a motorized structure, which includes an autopilot, a data link for communication and a payload designed for the mission to be carried out. The automatic guidance is based on a list of waypoints, which are specified by their coordinates in a 3D space. The cameras (daylight or infrared) are integrated in a gyro-stabilized gimbal which reduces the movement of the aircraft and allows the operator to point to the target or the scene of interest. There is a Ground Station that consists of some sort of control unit with joysticks used by an operator to prepare and monitor the mission in real-time, to visualize images in real-time and to record them. The Ground Station is coupled to a data link antenna which tracks the aircraft. They are versions that are launched by means of a catapult, mainly useful if they are launched from narrow spaces or vessels.
|Predator C Avenger|
They were also companies with products or services for the sector, like GMV, or IXION, offering their Control Navigation and Mission (CNM) systems for unmanned vehicles. This system fits in any vehicle, giving it the level of intelligence and communication needed to be used as an Unmanned System.
In summary, it was a good opportunity to see the state of the art in unmanned vehicles and visit some friends from different companies in the market.