UAVs: Flying Cell Towers

The FAA re-authorization bill paves the way for UAVs to venture into commercial U.S. airspace. We explain how this could advance technology.

Until recently, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) were strictly used for military and defense applications, but that is quickly changing. The FAA re-authorization bill paves the way for UAVs to venture into commercial U.S. airspace.

Among other things, they are becoming flying cell sites. Bouncing a signal off a UAV can extend the range of handheld radios more than 100 miles. With the development of small cells, and internationally approved operating frequencies near 5 GHz, flying cell towers may be coming to a city near you.

Boeing last year unveiling its hydrogen-powered Phantom Eye UAV. With a 150-ft. wingspan and 450-lb payload, it is designed to stay aloft at altitudes to 65,000 ft. for four days at a time. The ScanEagle has also been converted to Hydrogen power.

In collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, an operator on the ground, with only a laptop computer and tactical radio, demonstrated command over a “swarm” of UAVs. The demonstration was performed with two ScanEagle UAVs manufactured by Insitu and one Procerus Unicorn from Johns Hopkins. The UAVs communicated using a Mobile Ad Hoc Network and swarm technology developed by JHU/APL.

Boeing’s Tactical Compact Communications Relay (TCCR) allows a small UAV to function as a communications repeater for military handheld radios.

It can extend the range of line-of-sight (LOS) handheld tactical radios to more than 150 nautical miles and is small enough to fit into a slot of about 5 by 5 by 1 inch in the ScanEagle’s payload bay.

Two Thales military radios were driven more than 1,100 miles around Washington and Oregon. A ScanEagle UAV, outfitted with the Narrow Band Communications Relay System flew above their Boardman, Oregon facility, and used the relay to communicate directly.

FreeWave is one of the radio suppliers for AAI and InSitu UAVs, as well as for software-defined radios (SDRs) used by ground troops. FreeWave’s wireless radios are used for command and control applications on board the UAVs.

Cobham Surveillance also designs and manufactures COFDM receivers suitable for UAV applications, at frequencies from 0.3 to 7.2 GHz. The receivers support standard and high-definition video formats, can handle as many as six diversity antenna inputs for improved reception. Advanced Microwave Products uses JPEG2000 video compression in its CNR1 narrowband video receiver to handle UAV applications. It occupies a narrow 2.5-MHz bandwidth.

What happens when communications infrastructure is down?

Mitre has done a lot of work on Instant Collaboration using Social Networks in emergency response.

FASTCOM combines a satellite feed relayed from in field to a Shadow UAV which then spreads 3G across the battlefield.

It allows collecting, reporting and communicating information from the field (video, reports, photos and more) directly to a smartphone device. Apps like SoldierEyes integrate the information. SoldierEyes can use WiFi and operate on smartphones tablets and PCs.

More commonly, Wi-Fi Direct lets Wi-Fi devices connect directly to each other — no access point required. Peer-to-peer. Wi-Fi Direct connections are easy and simple, says the WiFi Alliance.

Serval is free, open-source software for mobile phones. It lets you communicate even in the absence of phone towers or access points. The initial public release of the software is scheduled for late 2012.

Miracast is a peer-to-peer wireless screencast standard, created by the Wi-Fi Alliance. It mirrors your phone’s screen on your television using WiFi. Android 4.2 comes with Miracast and it’s incorporated into smartphones like the LG Nexus 4 and Samsung’s Galaxy S3.

Similarly, Samsung’s Remote Viewfinder lets your phone or tablet remotely control a Samsung WiFi Camera.

WAVE Connections has a push-to-talk applications that runs on smartphones and a PC browser to establish talk groups. It runs on iPhone/iPad, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile/CE and can communicate across all cellular networks as well as over WiFi connections.

Celly provides a private and secure way to do mobile social networking and texting. Family, friends, neighbors, classmates, coworkers, and teammates can create groups. Members can join instantly with one text and exchange group messages, polls, reminders, and web alerts.

Nokia’s Instant Community works completely by using the device’s adhoc wifi, enabling you to chat and share content with those around you instantly.

More than a dozen companies are supporting a proposed LTE standard for device-to-device links. LTE Direct uses licensed frequencies so it can be more reliable than using unlicensed radios. No tower required.

Direct LTE is based on line-of-sight links at a range up to 500 meters and 20-23 dBm signaling limits. LTE Direct is peer-to-peer cellular technology. It can work with Wi-Fi Direct, which is a similar technology that allows Wi-Fi devices to connect to each other without the need for a wireless access point.

The same PC/104 bus is used in both the Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle and tiny CubeSats, making the ScanEagle an interesting prototyping tool for microsat swarms. Arduino is an open-source single-board microcontroller and available on PC/104 boards.

The Arduino Due is the first 32-bit ARM powered Arduino. Another interesting experiment is LIFX, a kickstarter, app-controlled LED lamp, which connects a smartphone app to a WiFi router and then onto LIFX smartbulbs via 802.15.4 mesh network.

The ArduSat Kickstarter project is a user controlled Arduino-based computer and sensor array, housed in a 1U CubeSat. Kickstarter supporters who pledged $150 get to take up to 15 pictures using the satellite. With $325 or more, you can reserve satellite time to upload and run applications using ArduSat’s sensors.

CubeSat swarms may be the next big thing.

Gorgon Stare looks at a moderate-sized city with a wide-area electro-optical and infrared sensor system using a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. It involves a Mercury processor, ITT Exelis EO and IR cameras, and an L-3 Communications system. Sierra Nevada is the prime contractor on the Gorgon Stare program.

Parrot AR.Drones can be controlled by an iPhone or Android deviceGeorgia Robotics and InTelligent Systems (Grits) Lab at Georgia Tech researches Networked Robotics. The University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Lab uses Quadcopter vehicles developed by KMel Robotics. Their Scalable sWarms of Autonomous Robots and Mobile Sensors (, fly in air-born coordinated swarms that are dynamically reconfigurable.

DIY Drones include airplanes, helicopters, quadcopters and blimps. Most of them are under five pounds, and cost under $1,000.

Chris Anderson, the former Wired editor, founded DIY Drones and is now launching 3D RoboticsCloud Intelligence will give them brains.

Written by: Luke Pensworth

Luke is the managing editor and site manager of Dailywireless. As a wireless enthusiast/consumer, he reviews a lot of services based on his own experience. Disgruntled as he may be, he tries to keep his articles as honest as possible.

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