Unmanned Vehicles: a Growing but Demanding Market

August 28, 2012
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Unmanned Vehicle Power SupplyEven without any particular knowledge of the market the average man – or woman – on the street wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the unmanned systems market is being forecast to grow in the coming years.  Any viewer of the television reports from the war zones in which our country is engaged (or the latest action film starring Stallone, Norris, Statham et al!) will have seen that unmanned vehicles are an increasingly important element in modern warfare and intelligence gathering.  Indeed, whilst this area of expenditure is not immune to budget cuts unmanned vehicles are taking an increasing share of defense budgets around the world.  What isn’t as obvious to the public is that civil applications for such vehicles are also increasing.

All of which makes it an exciting industry in which to be a design engineer.  But the rapid technological changes that are happening also pose huge challenges that, according to a recent TechNavio report on the growth of the market (“Global Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Market 2011-2015”), could impact the growth of the market.

Vicor at AUVSI's Unmanned Systems North America 2012Earlier in the month, we exhibited at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012. It was a busy show and we had the opportunity to speak to many engineers about the challenges involved in designing power systems for unmanned vehicles.   OK, our conversations were skewed to the specific challenges they face with how they power the systems, but it became clear that all elements of these systems’ technological development are complex.  Not least because they are severely constrained for payload and power. And, the consequences of any component failure can be particularly severe, with the complete loss of the vehicle being one possible outcome. Unmanned vehicle designers need components that are smaller, lighter and more efficient while remaining utterly dependable. All of which makes it more challenging to find a component that exactly meets the needs of the system, requiring component suppliers to develop their offering to keep pace with the developments in the industry.

All of this makes it a great market for Vicor to be involved in.  Advances in Vicor’s power designs mean that we can offer very attractive power densities from smaller products, particularly in the VI Chip range. Their efficiency also reduces demand for precious power. Cooling requirements are reduced, so most can be satisfied passively rather than needing a fan. This in turn saves power and space, and removes a potential source of reliability problems. In fact, many military applications prohibit the use of fans for this reason.

And the significant weight saving provided by the Vicor products matters because in a vehicle whose total payload is only 15 kgs, any saving in the electronics’ weight can contribute to the capacity available for instruments, fuel and other equipment.

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