AeroVironment’s reconnaissance UASs reveal new autonomy options

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American military drone developer, AeroVironment, has recently unveiled new autonomous functionalities for some of its drones. This includes the Autonomy Retrofit Kit [ARK] and AVACORE software, which equip versatile drones such as the Puma 3 AE and Puma LE with advanced autonomy and machine learning capabilities, thus reducing the workload on operators. 

Photo credit: AeroVironment

Primarily, ARK acts as a quick-connect payload, introducing a new range of intelligent mission capabilities for Group 1+ Unmanned Aircraft Systems [UAS]. It operates as an edge computing source for crucial mission apps, enabling operators to delegate single or collaborative vehicle missions for entirely autonomous execution, even under demanding communication conditions. Furthermore, ARK intelligently incorporates distributed groups of dismounted units into a Mobile Ad Hoc Network [MANET] using the Android Team Awareness Kit [ATAK]. 

In contrast, AVACORE functions as AeroVironment’s autonomous software, providing an open platform for autonomous vehicles. It consists of an adaptable array of interfaces – including autopilots, radios, and sensors – and promotes swift integration with new platforms and applications. Intriguingly, ARK comes pre-loaded with SPOTR-Edge, the company’s computer vision software, designed for inherent detection, classification, location, and tracking of operationally significant objects. This includes people, vehicles, aircraft, and marine vessels, fully operational regardless of the time of day.

Critical advantage

Jeff Rodrian, Vice President of AV MacCready Works, reflected on the increased capabilities and critical benefits that ARK and AVACORE provide to those engaged in complex warfare scenarios. He stated that these tools, combining the unmatched autonomy of AV with the reliable SPOTR-Edge vision technology, aim to hasten situational understanding and mission success. 

The integration of autonomous technology and computer vision by ARK and AVACORE offers a variety of functions to operators controlling single or multiple agents. These include wide-area surveillance, tracking, and more. Implementation of these systems is rooted in a proven collection of autonomous AV systems, providing a scalable and adaptable suite of AI tools. This suite contributes to creating resilient and inventive assets, ultimately enhancing the safety and intelligence of mission capabilities.

Rodrian further elaborated that AVACORE features an intuitive behavior tree, paving the way for rapid development and integration of new autonomous tasks. This strategic application leads to the development of smarter systems, noticeably reducing the cognitive load experienced by warfighters.

Photo credit: AeroVironment

About Puma 3 AE UAS

The AeroVironment Puma 3 AE is a small unmanned aircraft system [UAS] designed for both land and maritime operations. With a wingspan of 9.2 feet and a weight of 15 pounds, this lightweight and compact system offers considerable operational flexibility. Its unique design allows it to be launched by hand and it is capable of landing either on land or water. 

The aircraft is equipped with AeroVironment’s Mantis i45 sensor suite, providing high-resolution imagery and multi-environment performance. This suite includes an electro-optical (EO) camera, an infrared [IR] camera, and a laser illuminator, all together providing robust day and night, and all-weather, target detection capabilities. 

Photo credit: AeroVironment

In addition, the Puma 3 AE features a secure Digital Data Link [DDL] from AeroVironment. This ensures both the integrity and confidentiality of the data it transmits. The DDL even allows the Puma 3 AE to interoperate with other AeroVironment systems. The Puma 3 AE’s operational range is no less impressive, capable of operating up to 20 kilometers from its ground control station, thereby providing extensive coverage. This capability positions it as an ideal choice for missions such as border patrol, disaster relief, and environmental monitoring. 

When it comes to endurance, the Puma 3 AE stands out from the crowd, capable of staying airborne for up to 2.5 hours on a single battery charge. This extended flight time, coupled with its advanced sensor suite, allows the Puma 3 AE to offer persistent surveillance over wide areas.

About Puma LE UAS

AeroVironment’s Puma LE is a small unmanned aircraft system [sUAS] designed for both land and maritime operations. Its dimensions comprise a wingspan of 9.2 feet and a length of 5.1 feet, affirming its compact size yet notable capabilities. The entire system weighs approximately 22.5 pounds, which incorporates a 5.5-pound payload. What makes this design exceptional is its lightweight characteristic, enabling it to be launched by hand without the necessity for extra equipment or a runway. 

The Puma LE comes equipped with a Mantis i45 sensor suite. This suite includes cutting-edge features like electro-optical/infrared [EO/IR] imaging and a laser illuminator. Apart from these, it also comes equipped with secure, digital data links, enabling real-time control and data streaming up to an impressive distance of 60 kilometers. When it comes to operational range, the Puma LE outshines several others by covering distances of up to 20 kilometers from its launch point. It boasts an in-air duration of up to 5.5 hours, a feat significantly notable when compared to many other sUAS in its class. The credit for this extended flight time goes to its efficient design coupled with a powerful yet lightweight lithium-ion battery.

The war in Ukraine

In the wake of the Ukraine war’s outbreak in 2022, AeroVironment experienced a surge in international recognition. This was largely due to the deployment of their so-called kamikaze drones – the Switchblade 300 and Switchblade 600 – included in one of the aid packages from the USA to Ukraine. 

Photo credit: FlightGlobal

Even today, Ukraine continues to receive these drone models, with the majority being the Switchblade 300 variant. Both versions have demonstrated their value in real-world combat scenarios, contributing to significant losses of Russian assets. Recently, the US Marine Corps has incorporated the Switchblade 300 into their arsenal, which serves as a testament to this drone’s effectiveness on the battlefield.

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