Unmanned vehicles push wireless, the rise of the drones: Page 3 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.
software platform for such universal control stations and is expected to make version 2.0 available to defense contractors soon. Northrop Grumman won a $3.3 million contract from the Navy in February to participate in the program.

Adoption of open platforms also leads to adoption of more levels of security.“We do a lot of work creating trusted systems inside our processors using secure boot, domain separation and tamper detection,” said Beck. “These are features primarily from networking and telecom sectors, but they have use in the mil-aero sector.”

Wind River code ensures apps only get access to the processor according to set time-shared schedules. “That makes systems more secure because no app can take over whole system; it’s a kind of early military virtualization,” said Downing.

On the wireless horizon

The military is out in front in the development of wireless technologies.

It pioneered ultrawideband’s use more than a decade ago. Today, drone designers are in the vanguard of cognitive- and software-defined radios that survey available spectrum and smartly use open gaps to avoid detection and jamming.

“They are deploying [such radio technology] at different levels for different purposes, such as achieving more reliable connections between aerial vehicles and ground stations,” said Rodger Hosking, a vice president at embedded board maker Pentek Inc., which supplies computer boards to a number of military contractors.

The smart radios are typically implemented in high-performance FPGAs assisted with a supervisory microprocessor.

Analog components such as 12-bit, 3.6-GHz A/D converters and 16-bit, 1.25-GHz D/A converters are also typical, Hosking noted. “We are constantly being pressured for faster ADCs and DACs for faster comms paths and more bandwidth,” Hosking said.

Jon Adams, a wireless business development manager for Freescale who has worked for both Boeing and Raytheon, said he knew of “some drones that operate at frequencies of 3.1 to 10.6 GHz,” adding that “military systems are not bound by FCC rules, so they generally use a

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