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Micro Air Vehicle (MAV)

On December 12, 1997 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) selected for negotiation six proposals to develop flight-enabling micro air vehicle technologies as part of the Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) program. A total of approximately $12 million had been allocated by DARPA for the flight-enabling technologies effort over the following three years. Award of funds is subject to negotiation. The selected proposals ranged in size from approximately $650,000 to $3,000,000, with final amounts would be determined during negotiations.

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass. - Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) Based Micro-Gas Turbine Engines for Micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
  • D-STAR Engineering, Shelton, Conn. - Low-Observable, Safe-Operation, Fuel Efficient, Light Weight Propulsion and Power System for Advanced Micro Air Vehicles
  • Technology in Blacksburg Inc., Blacksburg, Va. - Thermoelectric-Based Advanced Micro-Air Vehicle (MAV)
  • SRI International, Menlo Park, Calif. - Flapping-Wing Propulsion Using Electrostrictive Polymer Artificial Muscle Actuators
  • Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn. - An Elasto-Dynamic Ornithoptic Flying Robotic Insect
  • California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. - Micro Bat

Under the flight-enabling technologies effort, performers would develop some of the underlying technologies that would be needed for the most advanced micro air vehicle systems of the future. These technologies include: advanced aerodynamics, flight stability and control; lightweight propulsion and power generation; low-power, light-weight navigation, communications and on-board processing systems; advanced structures; and unique sensor payload technologies. Research to develop these technologies would complement the development of micro air vehicle systems, and would enable future development of advanced micro air vehicles that would be defined later in the DARPA program.

Also on December 12, 1997, four small businesses were selected by DARPA to receive contracts under Phase II of the Small Business Innovation Research program to continue research and development in support of the Micro Air Vehicle effort. IGR Inc., Beechwood, Ohio, would complete the development and demonstration of a very lightweight Solid Oxide Fuel Cell, tailored to the electrical power requirements of MAVs. M-DOT Inc., Phoenix, Ariz., would continue to develop a very small (1.4-pound thrust) gas turbine engine. AeroVironment Inc., Simi Valley, Calif., would continue its development and flight demonstration of an electric-powered, fixed-wing, reconnaissance micro air vehicle. Aerodyne Corp., Billerica, Mass., would continue its development of a hover vehicle that would also explore the capabilities of the mini-scale engine being developed by M-DOT. Each company would receive a 24-month contract worth approximately $750,000 (subject to final negotiations).

DARPA envisioned individual soldiers at the platoon, company or brigade level using such vehicles for reconnaissance and surveillance, battle damage assessment, targeting, emplacing sensors, communications relays, or for sensing chemical, nuclear or biological substances. The vehicles would have to be able to conduct real-time imaging, have ranges of up to 10 kilometers and speeds of up to 30 miles per hour for missions that are 20 minutes to two hours long.

As of 2002 MAV was envisioned as deploying in a container roughly the size of the Javelin, which troops used at that time. The portability would allow the system to operate at the small-unit level. It would also be equipped with both a video and IR sensor to allow all-weather day and night operations. Other payloads could be biological, chemical, or acoustic sensors. It would be capable of fully autonomous flight throughout its flight envelope, including hovering and conventional flight modes, and would operate in adverse weather. MAV's collision avoidance and precision landing systems would allow it to "perch and stare" and navigate under the canopy without a human manually flying it. The MAV would be able to operate in non-line-of-sight conditions and GPS limited environments typical of urban settings. The craft has its own control system that allows it to carry out its mission without human contact. It could operate under the canopy or inside buildings or caves for one-hour missions. This would be a great capability for special operations forces. It would significantly reduce their exposure to hostile fire and/or booby traps. The "perch and stare" capability of the MAV would provide tactical reconnaissance and surveillance for extended periods of time with low risk to the user.



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