Army partners with University of Illinois on autonomous drone swarm technology

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Army researchers are working with the University of Illinois Chicago on unmanned technology for recharging drone swarms.

The university has been awarded a four-year, $8 million cooperative agreement “to develop foundational science in two critical propulsion and power technology areas for powering future families of unmanned aircraft systems,” according to a statement released by the Army Research Laboratory.

“This collaborative program will help small battery-powered drones autonomously return from military missions to unmanned ground vehicles for recharging,” the Army added. “The university is developing algorithms to enable route planning for multiple teams of small unmanned air and ground vehicles.”

ARMY DEVELOPING DRONES THAT CAN CHANGE SHAPE MID-FLIGHT

The military is looking to make the process of recharging vast drone swarms as efficiently as possible by using fast, recharging batteries and wireless power transfer technologies. This, researchers say, will let multiple drones to hover over an unmanned ground vehicle and recharge wirelessly.

Army researchers are working with the University of Illinois Chicago on the drone recharging system.

Army researchers are working with the University of Illinois Chicago on the drone recharging system.
(Courtesy University of Illinois Chicago)

“Imagine in the future, the Army deploying a swarm of hundreds or thousands of unmanned aerial systems,” said Dr. Mike Kweon, program manager for the laboratory’s Versatile Tactical Power and Propulsion Essential Research Program, in the statement. “Each of these systems has only roughly 26 minutes with the current battery technologies to conduct a flight mission and return to their home before they lose battery power, which means all of them could conceivably return at the same time to have their batteries replaced.”

“Soldiers would need to carry a few thousand batteries on missions to facilitate this, which is logistically overwhelming and overall, not conducive to a leading expeditionary military operation,” Kweon added. “With this research project, we’re operationalizing scientific endeavors to increase Soldier readiness on the battlefields of

Swarm prices out its orbital IoT network’s hardware and services

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Swarm’s new network of satellites is intended to provide low-bandwidth, low-power connectivity to “Internet of Things” devices all over the world, and the company just announced how much its technology will actually cost. A $119 board will be sold to be integrated with new products, so while your home security camera won’t get it, it might be invaluable for a beehive monitor deep in an orchard or gunshot detection platform in a protected wildlife reserve.

The Swarm board is about the size of a pack of gum, and provides a constant connection at the kind of data rate and power requirement that IoT devices need — which is to say, low. After all, things like barometric pressure monitors, seismic activity detectors and vehicles that operate far from cellular coverage just send and receive a handful of bytes now and then.

Connecting those to legacy geosynchronous satellite networks is possible, of course, but also expensive, bulky and power-hungry. Swarm aims to offer a similar service for a tenth of the price; the company’s basic data plan provides up to 750 packets per month, with each packet up to 200 bytes. Not a lot, but it’s more than enough for many applications.

Swarm's tiny satellites lined up before launch.
Swarm’s tiny satellites lined up before launch.

Image Credits: Swarm

It’s important to keep costs down and connectivity up in growing industries like precision agriculture and smart maritime and logistics work. Being able to check in hourly from anywhere in the world for five bucks a month is a no-brainer for many companies that otherwise might have to go blind or pay quite a bit more for a traditional satellite link.

It’s not just the Swarm chip that’s small — the satellites themselves are too. So much so that they attracted unwanted attention from the FCC, which worried that the

Area 51 Has A Huge New Hangar Facility That Points To A Drone Swarm Future

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The Air Force’s clandestine flight test center deep inside the Nevada Test and Training Range, known as Area 51 or Groom Lake, among more colorful nicknames, continues to grow as it approaches its seventh decade of operations. Constant construction has grown the remote facility dramatically since the turn of the millennium, including the addition of a massive and still mysterious hangar built at the base’s remote southern end. Now, an even larger extension to an existing hangar facility that is quite peculiar in nature points to the very real possibility that the age of large swarms of unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) has finally arrived.

For around a year, construction has been underway in a prominent section of the southern ramp area at the base, near where the original A-12 Oxcart hangars still stand. A quartet of more modern hangars that are divided into two separate buildings, with each bay measuring roughly 90 feet wide, and are understood to be known as hangars 20-23, has been the recipient of a highly curious series of modifications. 

The hangars have stood for decades and are thought to largely serve Air Combat Command tactical aircraft programs, including supporting F-117 testing for many years. At first, it looked like they were about to be torn down. This didn’t end up being the case. Instead, massive enclosures were built over the aprons that flank the east and west sides of the original drive-through hangars. 

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From left to right: February 2020, July 2020, September 2020. 

In addition, the soft structure located just to the southwest of hangars 20-23 that has been badly torn for years and was eventually patched, has now been totally demolished. Interestingly, it appears that the soft structure actually concealed a