Repurposed Military Drones Create Mobile Wireless Hotspots

DARPA wants to use old UAVs to form ad-hoc networks for front line troops

2 min read
Repurposed Military Drones Create Mobile Wireless Hotspots
Launch of an RQ-7 Shadow UAV at Volk Field in Juneau County, Wisc., in 2010.
Photo: The National Guard via Flickr

The military is pouring a huge amount of resources into unmanned systems like UAVs. Every year, drones get fancier and more capable, which means that there's an increasing number of slightly less fancy and slightly less capable drones gathering dust and feeling lonely in a hangar somewhere. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has an idea of what these drones might be good for: not delivering weapons, not surveillance, but instead providing mobile high-speed network connectivity for deployed troops.

DARPA’s Mobile Hotspots program will develop a "reliable, on-demand capability for establishing long-range, high-capacity reachback that is organic to tactical units." In the practical sense, this means building a pod crammed with networking equipment that can fit on the wing of a spare RQ-7 Shadow UAV. Inside the pod are steerable millimeter-wave antennae that act as a relay, providing a local wireless network with a 1 Gb/s capacity.

The RQ-7 Shadow UAV.
Photo: U.S. Army Materiel Command via Flickr

In March, Phase 2 of the Mobile Hotspots program granted funding to several private companies to integrate the necessary technology into both UAV pods and associated ground vehicles. This phase will conclude with a demonstration of all of the pieces working together, while the final phase should showcase a mature, deployable system of multiple SRQ-7 Shadow UAVs providing a robust mobile network.

Drones are certainly one way to go if you need to deploy a temporary wireless network over a large area flexibly and quickly, but systems like these aren't efficient for long-term use. For a more permanent solution, options like blimps or HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) UAVs powered by the sunare likely a better way to go until infrastructure on the ground can be established. On the other hand, ground infrastructure is expensive to build and maintain and difficult to upgrade, which makes it worth asking if there might come a point at which it would make sense to replace things like cell towers with autonomous aerial relays even in developed areas.

Via [ DARPA ]

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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
DarkGray

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

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