Unmanned vehicles push wireless, the rise of the drones: Page 2 of 4

October 05, 2011 // By Rick Merritt
Military electronics is going through a mobile boom in drones—a rise in unmanned planes, trucks and ships—that is just beginning.
with ground stations.

“The processing demands have gone up dramatically as more and more sensors get put on these vehicles,” said Glenn Beck, an aerospace and defense segment marketing manager at Freescale Semiconductor Inc. “They are not using multicore, and it’s predominantly 32-bit chips. But they definitely will use multicore and 64-bit chips in the future.”

The start of virtualization

First-generation software enabling a rudimentary level of virtualization in aircraft is just starting to emerge based on the 653 Project, a landmark effort to consolidate separate Boeing 777 systems. The aircraft information management (AIM) system Honeywell Inc. delivered for the Boeing project was defined as an open system. It allowed as many as 17 competing vendors to share time-sliced segments on a single host processor from Freescale, consolidating multiple boxes into one—an unprecedented move in avionics.

The AIM system is seen as a huge design win for Honeywell. The concept is expected to proliferate across commercial aircraft.

The 653 effort “could save Boeing billions in maintenance costs because they won’t need to revamp separate hardware boxes and retest all their platforms every time there is a change,” said Chip Downing, senior director of Wind River’s aerospace and defense business. The Wind River VxWorks 653 Platform provides a basic level of task isolation.

Military electronics planners are applying lessons of the 653 project across a range of efforts to create open military platforms for drones. One objective is to allow more vendors to participate in creating hardware modules or software applications for unmanned vehicles.

Another objective is to create a universal portable ground station that can control many types of drones, reducing cost and complexity. Initial versions that might fit in trailers or even backpacks could eventually be miniaturized to the size of tablets or smartphones.

The Unmanned Control Segment Working Group, a joint standards effort sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, has released version 1.0 of its

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