With the US Army successfully testing a miniature helicopter UAV, called the Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) in Iraq, it is now set to induct these "Private Jones" (DARPA nickname) robotic aerial vehicles into its inventory. The "Private Jones" MAV will supplement the popular, and numerous, hand launched 'Raven.' It will meet a long-standing desire of ground troops for a hovering UAV.
The MAV is designed for surveillance and recognition missions and is a 13-inch high backpack device, weighing about 17 pounds. It is designed as a ducted fan air vehicle that will fly like a helicopter. Using a propeller that draws in air through a duct to provide lift, the MAV can attain altitudes of 500 feet, and is equipped with day and night cameras.
It is expected to prove especially useful in urban environments, where it can quickly manoeuvre around buildings and other obstacles.
The MAV is controlled using Honeywell's micro-electrical mechanical systems (MEMS) electronic sensor technology. Honeywell is now gearing up to produce a hundred of these MAVs every month.
The MAV has its blades contained within a cylindrical enclosure, and uses software control to keep it stable in flight. As for endurance, the MAV will stay in the air for about 60 minutes at sea level, before refueling. But at 10,000 feet, the average altitude in Afghanistan, it can stay in the air for only about 20 minutes.
The MAV and control equipment can be carried in a special container which, when loaded weighs about 40 pounds. It uses the same fuel as military vehicles.
At about $35,000, the MAV costs a bit more than the Raven ($25,000 each).
According to DARPA, the system will provide a small army unit with militarily useful real-time combat information of difficult to observe and/or distant areas or objects.
The system will also be employable in a variety of hostile environments, particularly in complex topologies, such as mountainous terrain; heavily forested areas; confined spaces; and high concentrations of civilians.
Situational awareness is provided by both day and thermal forward and downward looking electro-optical and infrared imaging sensors. The video feed to the ground station provides real-time viewing as well as recall of stored images.
The nickname "Private Jones" originates in the fact that an Army unit on the prowl will always summon a private soldier to reconnoiter an area ahead of the main unit. The MAV is now expected to perform this traditional, and risky, task for the infantry unit and relieve Private Jones of some stress and strain.