Unmanned vehicles are in the news again


Just before Christmas 2018, hundreds of flights were cancelled at Gatwick Airport following reports of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) – or drones as they are better known – being repeatedly sighted near the runway.

For three days there were 140,000 passengers and over 1,000 flights affected but, despite strong police and military involvement, no credible suspects are yet to be identified.


Unmanned vehicles in themselves are nothing new


Even if we just consider UAVs – as opposed to unmanned sea vehicles (USVs) or unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) – history tells us that unmanned vehicles (UVs) are not a recent invention.

Nearly 170 years ago the earliest recorded UAV flight was when the Austrian military attacked Venice using unmanned balloons with baskets stuffed with explosives.

UVs remained the preserve of the military for many years. By 1916 the US created the first pilotless aircraft for use in World War One and it was rolling out the first remote-controlled during World War Two.

Until the 80s drones were still largely considered an unreliable and expensive toy, but Israel’s UAV-led victory over Syria in 1982 changed this.


UVs are the disruptive tech par excellence


UVs are set to transform our society – our military capabilities, our industrial operations, our commercial services and our daily life.

It still remains true that today many of the most notable drone flights have been conducted for military purposes.

But not for long.

Goldman Sachs predicts that by 2020, 30% of what is estimated to be a $100 billion global UAV market will be consumer or commercial rather than military.

Already drones are widely used for agriculture, aerial photography, geodesy, law enforcement, advertising and building safety.

In the near future UAV taxis may be on the cards, Amazon has been publicly investigating UAV deliveries since 2014 and drones may emit radio/video signals – or other forms of bandwidth – for connectivity in rural areas.


Meanwhile, under the ocean and across the roughest of terrains…


UV potential is already widely used by oceanographers and the oil and gas industries to carry out work in depths that would create a host of problems for manned sea vehicles. In the surf zone and on land, UGVs are used to scan and neutralise mines. Across difficult terrain, they are reducing operational demand for troops travelling cross-country and in commercial plants, they are used for surveillance.

In fact, UVs in general tend to be used to accomplish the 3 ‘D’s – work that is too dull (or repetitive), dirty or dangerous for humans to carry out.

And herein lies one of the biggest challenges for OEMs when they begin to design UVs.


The design challenge of UVs


An experienced, quality EMS partner will reduce manufacturing risk, increase operational efficiencies and overcome technical challenges for OEMs entering the UV market.

Typically, UVs are put to use in hazardous – or at least challenging environments.

  • UGVs must withstand the knocks and bumps of rugged terrain
  • USVs often operate in deep sea environments and must withstand intense atmospheric pressure and the corrosive force of salt water
  • Surf zone mine sweepers face the risk of explosions and the pounding force of the ocean as they prepare the way for troops

To design UVs that can withstand such situations an in-depth understanding of suitable casings is essential, as is the ability to pack a lot of functions into a small space.

Many UVs are reliant on as large a battery as possible to deliver sufficient operating times. And the larger the battery the more compact the space for other essential electronics.

Rapid improvements in battery technology mean that the energy density of lithium-ion batteries is improving by 5 to 8 percent every year: their lifespan is expected to double by 2025.

But system integration can unlock equally mission critical doors for UVs as their power sources can.

System integration is vital for designing efficient, effective and robust UVs. It takes a specialist EMS partner to skillfully design and integrate custom PCB assembly with sub-assemblies and modules, enclosure design, fabrication, cabling and wiring.

All these elements are used to create complex, multi-tier systems that marry robotic functionality with vehicular design. And each design is made ready through testing, software, programming and calibration.

Factors such as size and weight are critical here – but so too is longevity, resistance to environmental forces and reliability. Materials must be selected to offer protective enclosures that are able to withstand factors such as immense pressure, intense heat, corrosive forces and jolts, impacts and explosions.

Yet, these rugged exterior and interior casings must protect incredibly complex and intricate electronics that are at the forefront of developments in navigation, control systems, robotics, communication and connectivity.

Where IoT capabilities are employed for security or data collection, it is also vital that the electronics are not only robust enough to handle challenging environments but also offer maximum security and defence against cyber-attacks.

All of these layers of complexity call for a specialist EMS partner – and for one who can confidently prototype for successful and effortless integration into wider systems.


Why choose Chemigraphic as your UV EMS partner?


Chemigraphic has been supporting complementary market sectors that include the oil and gas industry, aviation, aerospace, military and transport for many years. Our knowledge of and experience in designing, assembling and fulfilling products destined for hostile and challenging environments means we can help you design, prototype, and run rigorous tests to ensure reliability and the best possible results for your UV.


Feature photo by Lance Cpl. Rhita Daniel.

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