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REMOTELY PILOTED VEHICLE

Researchers at the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) and the Universities of Arizona and Oklahoma developed the Remotely Piloted Vehicle - more commonly known as the RPV.

RPV consists of a small airplane containing:

  • A simple autopilot - a circuitry for decoding the radio signal
  • A GPS radio receiver
  • A terminal node controller (TNC) for digitizing the radio signal and GPS signals
  • A 2m-radio transmitter for sending the signal to a ground receiver

The ground station consists of a 2m radio receiver, a TNC, a laptop computer, automatic positioning reporting system (APRS) software, and software for decoding the radio signal.

RPV has been primarily developed for scientific expeditions at high altitude, where human expeditions are difficult and dangerous. So far it has been used to make thermo-dynamic soundings from the surface up to about 4 km of altitude. However, it has the capability of reaching at least 6 km of altitude within 30 min of takeoff. The RPV can send the collected data anytime during the ascent, the flight and the descent due to the use of advanced wireless communication technology. The data transmitted by the RPV can be received at any point within a radius of about 5 miles from the ground station.

One more novel feature of the RPV is its capability to fly in all weather conditions; the autopilot keeps the aircraft stable, while a GPS navigation system is used to determine its position and velocity. This data is transmitted every two seconds to the ground station. The autopilot then flies the aircraft from the ground with reference to a laptop display and a radio control. Therefore, the aircraft can fly within clouds and not become lost, and can be returned to its launch point for complete reuse. In recent tests, up to 10 soundings were performed in one day.

The RPV is practically risk-free because it is designed to make soundings within gliding distance of the launch site; descent and landing are done with the engine turned off, so that engine failure is not a serious concern.

The RPV presents a great potential for various scientific, military and civil applications. To name a few:

  • Unmanned scientific expeditions at high altitude
  • Spying
  • Land and water surveys and data collection
  • Low altitude survey of volcanoes, forest fires and similar expeditions, where manned operations could be life threatening

Although the RPV is not likely to have a direct impact on the common man, it is poised to revolutionize the way various scientific, military and civil expeditions are conducted today

 

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