UAV Designs Up Their Reliance on Box-Level Systems

Thanks to more powerful and more compact rugged box solutions, the on-board functionality of all types of UAVs able to increase to new levels. Size, weight and power (SWaP) reduction is priority number one.

Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief | April 2016

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In the past couple years DoD UAV development has leaned toward technology upgrades of existing UAV platforms and payloads while limiting development of new ones. Feeding those needs technology vendors continue to roll out new integrated box-level systems with the proper size, weight and power (SWaP) for UAV requirements. For medium and large UAVs, the pressure is on to add more payload functionality in the same space or add more separate payloads on the same platform. System developers have to look at box-level computer systems and the trade-offs versus slot-card solutions and how system consolidation is impacting the radar, imaging processing and communications capabilities of next-gen UAVs.

According to market research from ASDReports—Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Market Report 2016-2026—the UAV market is set to be worth $7,447 million in 2016 as a result of sustained spending on military unmanned aerial vehicles in both established and emerging national markets (Figure 1). The global military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market is a dynamic one that will register strong growth during this period. According to the research ongoing security issues, rising defense spending and the emergence of new national markets will drive demand for COTS systems, while established market players will continue to develop more sophisticated domestic UAVs during the next ten years.



Figure 1.

Market research from ASDReports says the military UAV market is set to be worth $7,447 million in 2016 as a result of sustained spending on military UAVs in both established and emerging national markets.

Rugged Boxes or Slot Card Chassis?

In recent years the trend in large and medium UAVs in recent years has been to embed arrays of big slot-card board systems with general-purpose processors and more recently FPGA-based cards. But as that’s shifted toward the idea of stand-alone function-specific box-level systems are in some cases replacing traditional slot-card implementations. Thanks to that kind of box-level consolidation, the radar, imaging processing and communications capabilities of large UAVs by allowing more functionality in the same space. For functions like comms and networking systems sometimes it’s helpful to leave open for the end-user for reconfiguring fielded systems to their own needs. What’s happened in recent years, is that box-level solutions have emerged that have open architecture boards inside, based on VPX or PC/104 for example.

An example of box and board solutions used together, Acromag and Alta Data teamed up to integrate Acromag’s box-level ARCX product with Alta’s avionics interface cards. The ARCX embedded computer is a customizable-off-the-shelf Intel i7 with one or two PMC/XMC expansion sites. This rugged, small form factor box is designed to meet IP67 standards for a dependable, sealed, fanless system. Alta offers a wide variety of avionics PMC and XMC MIL-STD-1553 and ARINC high density interface cards that have been field tested with the ARCX. The rugged ARCX system is a 4th Generation Intel Core CPU and single or double PMC/XMC sites and 38999 connectors (Figure 2). SWaP-optimized for systems such as: payload management, as well as command and control for drones and robotics. For example, an ARCX i7 Quad Core system with Alta’s MIL-STD-1553 or ARINC PMC cards and Acromag’s advanced FPGA PMC provides a solution for DSP, video and avionics system capabilities.

FINAL COTS04 Rugged Boxes UAVs Jeff Lead Fig2_original

Figure 2.

The rugged ARCX system is a 4th Generation Intel Core CPU and single or double PMC/XMC sites and 38999 connectors.


Tailored for UAV Use

A recent example of a rugged box level system specifically designed for the kinds of needs UAV platforms require is Curtiss-Wright’s Defense Solutions newest member of its Parvus DuraCOR family of extremely small form factor rugged mission computer subsystems. Designed for applications such as unmanned systems that require an extremely size, weight, power and cost (SWaP-C) optimized mission computer, the new Parvus DuraCOR 311 Mission Computer combines 64-bit quad-core Intel “Baytrail” Atom modular mission processing capabilities with integrated Intel HD graphics in a lightweight, ultra-small form factor rugged design. The new ultra-small mission computer weighs less than 1.5 pounds and is less than 40 cubic inches in size.

The DuraCOR 311 comes with a full complement of standard I/O interfaces (including USB, Ethernet, Serial, DIO, Video, and Audio). I/O expansion is supported by three Mini-PCIe expansion slots and the broad ecosystem of rugged COTS Mini-PCIe modules (including MIL-STD-1553 and ARINC 429 avionics databus interfaces). The DuraCOR 311 also features MIL-performance circular connectors and a fully dust and waterproof chassis. In addition to internal mSATA and microSD card slots, the system offers an optional removable 2.5 inch SATA SSD storage option for high capacity storage and information assurance requirements. Initial software support includes pre-loaded Linux or Windows operating systems. The unit’s Intel processor supports HD-class video acceleration, including OpenGL, OpenCL, and OpenVG.

Also with a solution aimed specifically at UAVs, Advanced Micro Peripherals provides its microHydra is a COTS multi-channel video acquisition appliance ideally suited for UAV applications such as surveillance and reconnaissance where more functionality is essential in rugged, compact environments. The microHydra is implemented with multiple intelligent video processors on a PC/104 stack linked to a central processor and storage over a Gbit Ethernet fabric. The system has a conduction-cooled IP67 rated enclosure with sealed MIL-D38999 connectors. It supports up to 8 PAL/NTSC/RS-170 recording channels for capturing multiple live video cameras, RS-170 signals and FLIR. In addition, two HD-SDI inputs supporting KLV meta-data (to STANAG 4609) extraction and processing are provided to handle high-end imaging of EOIR HD sources including L3 -Wescam turrets. Also provided are optional sensors and features including Controller Area Network (CAN), 3 -Axis Accelerometer, Altimeter, a 3 -Axis Digital Magnetometer (e-compass), and Gyroscope.


Cloud Processing on UAVs

One important trend in large UAV system is the desire to move the processing closer to where the sensor or antenna is bringing in signals. At the same time, there’s a move to pack in more processing power that can be used as needed throughout a system. This calls for server class computing on compact embedded boards. Mercury Systems calls this on-platform cloud processing at the tactical edge. An example along those lines is Mercury’s HDS6603 (Figure 3), its fourth generation Intel Xeon server-class, OpenVPX processing board. It provides over a Teraflop of general processing using dual Intel Xeon x86 processors, each with 12 cores, Haswell architecture and Wellsburg Bridge technology. The board can do unrestricted 40 Gbit/s Ethernet and FDR10 fabric bandwidth. Mechanical ruggedness and the effective Air Flow-By cooling technology ensure the highest MTBF even under full throttle, continuous processing conditions.


FINAL COTS04 Rugged Boxes UAVs Jeff Lead Fig3_original

Figure 3.

The HDS6603 is a fourth generation Intel Xeon server-class, OpenVPX processing board. It provides over a Teraflop of general processing using dual Intel Xeon x86 processors, each with 12 cores.


Advanced Micro Peripherals
New York, NY
(212) 951 7205

Abaco Systems
Huntsville, AL
(866) 652-2226

Wixom, MI.
(248) 295-0310.

Aitech Defense Systems
Chatsworth, CA.
(888) 248-3248.

Concurrent Technologies
Woburn, MA.
(781) 933 5900.

CES (Creative Electronic Systems)
Geneva, Switzerland
+41 (0)22 884 51 00

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions
Ashburn, VA
(703) 779-7800

Mission Viejo, CA
(949) 855-3235

Extreme Engineering Solutions
Middleton, WI
(608) 833-1155

GE Intelligent Platforms
Charlottesville, VA
(800) 368-2738

General Micro Systems
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
(909) 980-4863

Kontron America
Poway, CA
(858) 677-0877

Mercury Systems
Chelmsford, MA
(978) 967-1401

North Atlantic Industries
Bohemia, NY
(631) 567-1100

Octagon Systems
Westminster, CO
(303) 430-1500

RTD Embedded Technologies
State College, PA
(814) 234-8087 

Sugar Land, TX
(281) 313-3600

Themis Computer
Fremont, CA
(510) 252-0870