Emerging Technology

DARPA explores drone-powered Wi-Fi

DARPA is using Iraq-war vintage RQ-7 Shadow surveillance drones to see if the small aircraft can carry the package of power supplies and hotspot components and also to see if they can communicate effectively with other ground-based and airborne hotspots.

DARPA is using Iraq-war vintage RQ-7 Shadow surveillance drones to see if the small aircraft can carry the package of power supplies and hotspot components and also to see if they can communicate effectively with other ground-based and airborne hotspots.

Defense Department technology researchers are putting high-speed mobile hotspots on drones to carry long-range, high-capacity wireless hotspots over places where network access is scarce or absent.

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) said in early April that it is making progress in providing 1 GB, 4G-like wireless millimeter wave backbone communications links to military units by mounting advanced hotspot gear to small unmanned aerial drones.

DARPA is using Iraq-war vintage RQ-7 Shadow surveillance drones to see if the small aircraft can carry the package of power supplies and hotspot components and also to see if they can communicate effectively with other ground-based and airborne hotspots. Ultimately, the agency is aiming for a nimble technology payload that is no wider than eight inches, weighs less than 20 pounds and uses less than 150 watts of power.

The mobile hotspot program, it said, is aimed at providing high-speed bandwidth to lower ranking echelons of troops in the field to connect to tactical operations centers with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data. The technology also has domestic potential, as well -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for example, has expressed interest in finding ways to quickly deploy communications networks when natural disasters have knocked out existing infrastructure.

The private sector is focused on drone-driven networks as well. Only a few days after DARPA detailed its efforts to develop flying hotspots, Google announced it was buying Titan Aerospace, a premier developer and builder of high-altitude drones. The company develops unmanned vehicles that can fly at the edge of the earth's atmosphere and can potentially carry transmission gear to support cheap, always-on Internet connectivity to far-flung places around the earth.

Titan calls its technology "atmospheric satellites." Google reportedly wants the technology to support its "Project Loon" global Internet connectivity plan. Project Loon, according to the Google's website, is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.

The Federal Aviation Administration is currently working on rules to govern the use of unmanned aerial systems in U.S. airspace. Those regulations are expected to be in place in 2015 -- one factor driving the broader commercial push into UAS technology.

According to DARPA, potential vendors under the mobile hotspots program recently completed the first of three technology development and testing phases, including technology integration and flight tests.

"We're pleased with the technical achievements we've seen so far in steerable millimeter-wave antennas and millimeter-wave amplifier technology," said Dick Ridgway, DARPA program manager. "These successes—and the novel networking approaches needed to maintain these high-capacity links—are key to providing forward deployed units with the same high-capacity connectivity we all enjoy over our 4G cell-phone networks."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group