Funding Enables UAV Capabilities

According to Forecast International analyst Larry Dickerson, the market for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) reconnaissance systems, including air vehicles and payloads, is expected to be worth $13.6 billion through 2014. "Thanks to their battlefield successes in Iraq and Afghanistan, money is being lavished on UAV programs as never before," said Dickerson. (

This is music to the ears of Optical Alchemy Inc., a company that is working to help UAVs expand mission range, flight time, and capability. The company's ultralight 2-axis KJ-600 includes IR and visible zoom cameras, a laser marker, IMU, GPS, and digital compass—and allows a user-defined sensor suite. (

Besides lightweight components, UAVs need enhanced power systems, so the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has asked Protonex Technology Corp. to develop compact, high-density fuel cell systems. This award follows Protonex's previous work with the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), which flew its 5.6-pound 'Spider-Lion' UAV for 3 hours, 19 minutes using only compressed hydrogen for power. Under the AFRL contract, the company will replace the compressed hydrogen system with chemical hydride technology that Protonex predicts will allow flight times of 8–12 hours. (

Now imagine multiple UAVs "swarming" in concert. MachineTalker Inc. does. The company boasts completion of tests wherein its mesh network collected data from sensors onboard NASA UAVs, then processed and passed results to devices on the ground in real time. This, MachineTalker says, proves the feasibility of intelligent, autonomous squadrons that share information—and demonstrates the efficacy of low-cost sensor networks in other aerospace applications, including environmental monitoring, pipeline surveillance, security, and more. (