DARPA Working to Improve In-Flight Drone Controls

copter-2025680_960_720The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) unmanned aerial systems (UAS) currently support a wide range of payloads for tasks such as communication, combat, surveillance and more. However, these drones are only able to carry a single instrument at a time, limiting their usability in military operations. A UAS, for instance, can be equipped for surveillance. But if the military command wants to use it for combat, it must be sent back to base where its instrument is switched out. Well, DARPA is hoping to change this by developing a new architecture for its UAS drones.

Drone payloads typically come with a suite of components, some of which include antennas, computer processors, radio antennas, etc. Given that space is a rare commodity on drones, however, engineers must carefully consider their respective weight and overall size. In some cases, two drones may be sent to perform the same task, with the necessary components spread across both drones instead of just one.

Using two drones, of course, is a more resource-intensive. Furthermore, it restricts the versatility of this otherwise effective military tool. DARPA is looking to solve this problem ,however, by launching the Converged Collaborative Elements for RF Task Operations (CONCERTO) program. Instead of having each instrument carry hauling its own components, the new format would allow common hardware to be shared; thus, removing the requirement of needing to land or fly multiple simultaneous drones in the air.

In a press release, DARPA said it awarded two contracts associated with the CONCERTO program to BAE Systems. BAE Systems will help design the newer and more efficient drone architecture, which DARPA hopes will improve the way in which the military uses its drones. The contracts are valued at $5.4 million (combined). While that may seem expensive, experts say it’s a smart investment that will ultimately improve the usability of drones for military operations. The new architecture will improve the drones’ radio frequency bandwidth, distance, field of view, and more.

So, how does the new CONCERTO program work exactly? While still in the early stages of development, researchers say it will allow drones to switch between missions without landing to base to change their instruments and respective components.

This agility is particularly important in denied environments, where multiple mission functions are typically needed to penetrate defenses and remain operational,” says Randall Lapierre, technology development manager at BAE Systems. “By enabling small platform systems to share core components, we’re helping them become more agile and stay on station longer.”