Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are the subject of considerable attention in the governmental, scientific, and research communities. They are operated by onboard flight automation systems or remotely by a human pilot. Recently employed in Afghanistan and Iraq, UAVs can be used for reconnaissance, surveillance, and even combat. They also have many non-military applications. These sites illustrate the diversity of UAVs and discuss new technologies being used in their design.
An article from West Virginia University (1) gives an overview of UAV research being conducted at the institution. In addition to describing the software development for UAV control, the article effectively conveys what UAVs are and how they are used. Another resource that demonstrates the multitude of UAV applications comes from a company that specializes in their design (2). The UAVs described on the site range from high-flying solar powered aircraft to tiny MicroAir Vehicles. Many of the aircraft featured on the site were developed in conjunction with NASA, and a technical paper describing the development of one of the UAVs is provided. A Congressional Research Service report (3) focuses on military acquisition and utilization of UAVs. It briefly discusses early trials dating back to World War I and later efforts by the Israeli Air Force, but the majority of the report deals with current models and the gradual phasing out of certain manned flight missions. The High-Altitude, Long-Endurance UAV Certification & Regulatory Roadmap (4) is a massive online document intended to facilitate the creation of a National Airspace System that includes UAV flight. The downloadable version is nearly 500 pages in length and addresses the integration of UAVs in civil, commercial, and military applications. The University of Sydney has a group of students and faculty that are very active in UAV research and development. The group's homepage (5) showcases four UAVs created at the university, as well as providing several research papers that explore related design issues. A report from the University of Florida (6) proposes a computer vision-based system for creating a fully autonomous Micro Air Vehicle (MAV). The authors note that while considerable progress has been made in remotely piloted MAVs, efforts to develop a MAV that can pilot itself have met with limited success. To curb this trend, the researchers created a system that uses an onboard camera for horizon detection, and the details are presented in the paper. A news article from October 2003 (7) documents a groundbreaking achievement in aviation: the first laser-powered aircraft. Developed by researchers from NASA and the University of Alabama, the UAV is the target of a ground-based laser that charges the photovoltaic cells on board the aircraft. Another news story offers some surprising comments, including the suggestion that manned fighter jets will soon be a thing of the past. Published by Wired News in November 2003, the article cites several experts in unmanned aerial vehicle development. [CL]
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