Unmanned Aerial Vehicles(UAVs) and Uninhabited Combat Aerial Vehicles(UCAVs) made their grand appearance during the Cold War era. They were machines of reconnaissance, seldom helped the men in the field of espionage with vital information, used in combat for missile and munition deployment. UCAVs are required to be more precisely engineered as they carry the responsibility of hitting targets causing less collateral damage. As time progressed the applications diversified from being limited to the armed forces to aiding the government in surveillance during the times of natural calamities and accidents.
One very recent example is the wide deployment of UAVs in search of deceased ex-Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh in a helicopter crash near the jungles in Ananthapur District of AP. The major reasons for their deployment was the ability to maneuver them in localities that are unwelcoming to the human beings, their small size provides better capability to cut through small gaps. When the devastating earthquake in Haiti killed tens of thousands and dispersed hundreds of thousands, most of the survivors were tracked down by UAVs. On April 5,2009, DRDO's Aeronautical Development Establishment successfully finished testing out UAV Nishanth, one of the very few UAVs in the world that is catapulted into air rather than take-off normally like most of its counterparts. It has a flight duration of four hours and thirty minutes. Additionally we have built LAKSHYA a Pilotless Target Aircraft to guide all the three forces in aerial target tracking and Gun/Missile Training. Some of the recent happenings with regards to the UAVs in India are outlined in these links: 1. India Working on UAV 2.India to build Killer UAV 3. India sets sights on killer drones Why UAVs? We extract the following advanatages:
- Ability to integrate more sophisticated technologies
- Eliminate the restrictions and additional equipment like Ejection Seats, Depressurized Cabins, Oxygen Supply, that is required on board to provide a good working atmosphere for a pilot.
- A high structural integrity can be achieved through the usage of flexible materials in building the aircraft.
- Better maneuverability and stability is reliant on airframe material composition and not on Pilot limitations. G-force limitations placed on manned aerial vehicles are eliminated.
- Pilot fatigue eliminated, ensures longer flight time.
- Reduced Cost of building the aircraft.
- In case of UCAVs, in addition to all the above advantages we can deploy pilots to engage in warfare.
Exploiting the aforesaid pluses, the world of unmanned aircraft has traveled from remote controlled flight to modern day Autonomously Navigated Aerial Vehicles. The current research problems that many scientists and many individuals in academia are brainstorming are Automating Flight Navigation and Control. To put in layman's terms: How to make the aircraft fly towards the target and finish its mission, provided we feed in the task before it takes off and have no or very little control over it from the ground station? Especially, when the UAV under test is a helicopter or a rotary wing aircraft, the sophistication involved in designing is more as they are much harder to control compared to the fixed wing aircraft (airplanes).
How are we trying to achieve a totally automated flight?
1.Motion Planning:This involves devising a multitude of algorithms analyzing the terrain and building paths using simple to complex geometrical and mathematical principles. You will be able to associate this to a GPS, but this one is a very smart GPS. It has the capability to analyze the terrain, the size of the obstacles, take into consideration the behavior of the aircraft and then build a set of way-points. These way-points tell the aircraft where to go next
2.Position Control: This segment receives the path generated by the motion planner above and additionally it continuously receives information from the aircraft about its whereabouts and its orientation. Now we generate inputs for our next segment with all the information gathered using different control algorithms. The main purpose of this controller is to make sure that the aircraft stays on the path that it was asked to follow. 3.Stabilization Control:This segment deals with trying to control the aircraft's orientation and altitude so that the aircraft maneuvers itself in the way that will keep it on the path. We can relate this to a turning a steering wheel at the same time controlling the brake and accelerator to make sure the car makes a turn smoothly without spiraling out of control. The adjacent table introduces to the control pedals used to maneuver aircraft. The aircraft responds to the inputs from the stabilization controller and moves according to the paths generated and reaches it desired target. All this happens when its in the air. The more capabilities that we add on to the aircraft, more the complexity of integration will be. Hence, a towering amount of research is underway. While man's desire to fly translated into an engineering marvel, man's dream to build machines that replicate his thought process and analytical skills led to ageneration of automation. UAV is one such invention that revolutionized the field of automation, taking into account the amount of mathematical, engineering and operational complexity involved in building and maintaining them. I hope this article helps understand the various stages involved in designing the UAVs and at the same time shed some light on their applications.
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