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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Curtiss Wright Sees Aerial Cargo, Wi-Fi Hotspots in Unmanned Future

Woodrow Bellamy III 

[Avionics Today May 15, 2014] AUVSI 2014 provided an excellent opportunity for avionics companies to engage the growing unmanned systems market within both the military and the commercial segment, the latter of which is on track to explode with a range of new applications over the next decade. 

CNS4. Photo, courtesy of Curtiss Wright.

 
Avionics Magazine caught up with Curtiss-Wright Defense Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Systems Solutions Curtiss Reichenfeld to discuss the company's extensive history of providing sensors, controls, subsystems and other components for military Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and how that experience can carry over to the growing commercial UAS market. Reichenfeld believes there are a number of opportunities in the market that will require avionics systems that are rooted in a reduction of Size, Weight and Power (SWAP). 
 
"We see opportunities in a wide range of areas including homeland security, law enforcement, cargo transport, agriculture, Wi-Fi/small cell hot spots, etc.," said Reichenfeld.
 
"Depending on the mission requirements, the solutions we provide, either [at] system or board level, are SWAP-C optimized and tailored to commercial requirements. These include such solutions as DO-178B/C and DO-254 certifiable systems, sense and avoid technologies, digital voice recognition and synthesized verbal response for operations with FAA controlled airspace, and Visual Flight Rules (VFR) aircraft communication."
 
UAS industry experts from organizations such as AUVSI, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) all agree that sense and avoid is the key technology to facilitating some of the more advanced commercial applications described by Reichenfeld. This is especially true in the United States, which lags behind other countries such as Japan and Australia, where commercial UAS operations have been occurring for over a decade. 
 
The importance of sense and avoid was also highlighted during a speech given by Jim Williams, the FAA's manager for UAS integration. 
 
"There are unique challenges that arise without an on-board pilot controlling the aircraft. Due to communication linkages and human interaction, reaction times can be slower. Since there is no pilot onboard an unmanned aircraft, 'see and avoid' is not possible. Thus, the development of sophisticated 'detect and avoid' systems is crucial," said Williams. 
 
In addition to developing a certifiable sense and avoid system for UAS, Reichenfeld said the industry also needs to focus on producing additional UAS safety enhancing technology, including "voice recognition and digitized verbal response to communicate with FAA control towers and light aircraft under VFR [Visual Flight Rules]."
 
During AUVSI 2014, Curtiss-Wright introduced several new products that will help facilitate the integration of these safety-enhancing technologies for both commercial and military UAS platforms in the future. These include its CNS4 Compact Network Storage subsystem, which is a conduction-cooled, high-performance network file server (NFS) with scalable storage, flexible Input/Output (IO), and encryption options. 
 
CNS4 enables UAS system designers to provide data, audio and video storage requirements within a single box, eliminating the need for multiple data recorders for that application.
 
The company also announced its new VPX3-1701, a 3U VPX single board computer (SBC) based on a CPU that features dual 1 GHz ARM processors.  According to Curtiss Wright, the VPX3-1701 will provide UAS with multi-GB/s data flows from board-to-board through the backplane interface and from the backplane to its on-board XMC site to support the acquisition, processing and distribution of sensor data. 
 
As civil aviation authorities in the U.S. and abroad continue to develop regulations for more complex commercial UAS applications, Reichenfeld said Curtiss-Wright will continue to "work on advanced UAV technology in the areas of autonomy, collaboration and cooperative operations in military and commercial environments."
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