If you're on the side of the road planting a bomb, a swarm of robotic drones overhead may be cause for alarm. However, if you're waist-deep in floodwaters trying to get a signal with your cell phone, a network of communications drones overhead would be a welcome sight. There are some interesting possible uses for unmanned aerial flight systems, and we'll take a closer look at one of them in this section.
As ideas for alternative uses for UAVs and the technologies that support them become more advanced, researchers are pursuing new ways to use unmanned aircraft. One of these ideas comes from researchers in Switzerland who are developing a type of unmanned drone called a Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) that could be released in great numbers over disaster areas. Swarming MAVs -- known as SMAVs -- would be able to reestablish a communications network by creating a wireless network that the drones maintain. This network is known as a SMAVNET.
For SMAVNET technology to work, the aircraft would have to be small, lightweight and relatively cheap. The aircraft would also have to be short on frills such as GPS navigating systems or live video feeds. Current SMAV models have small electric motors and weigh as little as around 13 ounces (368 grams). The SMAVs are constructed out of very strong but flexible industrial foam, which helps keep their weight at an absolute minimum.
The drones would be truly robotic, operating without human guidance. Ideally, they could be sent airborne and then coordinate with each other using basic sensors that send information about the altitude and velocity of each craft. Researchers are still looking for ways to determine algorithms that would allow the SMAVs to maintain line-of-sight connection with one another without colliding or adding more danger to the disaster area they're meant to be aiding. Scientists are studying the networks established by army ants as they locate and signal to other ants the sources to food and the pathways between them.
For lots more information on the Reaper and related UAV technology, see the next section.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- How the Predator UAV Works
- How Airplanes Work
- How a U.S. Spy Plane Works
- How F-15s Work
- How Location Tracking Works
- How Stealth Bombers Work
- How Satellites Work
- How GPS Receivers Work
- How Flying Wings Will Work
- How Radar Works
- How Radar Detectors Work
- How Becoming an Airline Pilot Works
- Is your workplace tracking your computer activities?
- How Bats Work
- World War II
- How Rocket Engines Work
- How Remote Controls Work
- How Spy Flies Will Work
More Great Links
- Almond, Peter. "Meet the RAF's newest combat group: pilotless planes flying crack missions in Afghanistan from 8,000 miles away." Daily Mail Online. July 7, 2008. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1032376/Meet-RAFs-newest-combat-group-pilotless-planes-flying-crack-missions-Afghanistan-8-000-miles-away.html
- Air Force Print News (AFPN). "April 21 airpower summary: Reaper destroys enemy combatants." April 22, 2008. http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123095421
- Broshear, Capt. Nathan. " Air Force's only UAV wing marks one year in the fight."
- 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs, 174th Fighter Wing.5/7/2008. http://www.174fw.ang.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123097773
- Department of Defense. "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Roadmap: 2002-2027, Office of the Secretary of Defense, December 2002." http://www.acq.osd.mil/usd/uav_roadmap.pdf
- EPFL. "The SMAVNET Project." Sabine Hauert and Severin Leven. (July 11, 2008). http://lis.epfl.ch/index.html?content=research/projects/SwarmingMAVs/
- Glines, C. V. "The Bat Bombers." Air Force Magazine. October 1990, Vol. 73, No. 10. http://www.afa.org/magazine/1990/1090bat.html
- Hanley, Charles J. "Robot Air Attack Squadron Bound for Iraq." ABC News. July 15, 2007. http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=3379446
- McGowan, Laura. "MQ-9 Reaper drops first GPS-guided weapon."
- 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs. Air Force Link. 5/19/2008. http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123099242
- "MQ-1 Predator." Air Force Link, Fact Sheet. May 2008. (July 11, 2008). http://www.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?fsID=122
- "MQ-1B Armed Predator." GlobalSecurity.org. May 14, 2008 (July 11, 2008). http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/systems/armed-predator.htm
- " MQ-9 Reaper." Air Force Link. May 2008 (July 11, 2008).http://www.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?fsID=6405
- NOVA. "Spies that Fly." (July 11, 2008). http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/spiesfly/uavs.html
- "Rocket and missile system." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. (July 11, 2008). http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1357360/rocket-and-missile-system
- "Son Of Predator Goes To Iraq." Strategy Page. June 16, 2008.http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htairfo/articles/20080616.aspx
- USAToday. "Bomb-laden 'Reaper' drones bound for Iraq."
- July 15, 2007. http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2007-07-15-reaper_N.htm
- Wall Street Journal. "The Price Of Power -- Sticking To Its Guns: Why the Pentagon Is Often Slow to Pursue Promising Weapons." Thomas E. Ricks and Anne Marie Squeo. 10/12/1999. http://www.pulitzer.org/year/2000/national-reporting/works/sticking_to_its_guns.html
- Weiner, Mark. "Hancock Field Wins Support In Congress For Drones." Syracuse Post-Standard. June 25, 2008. http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf?/base/news-0/1214384283276390.xml&coll=1