Connectors are used in UAVs and other autonomous vehicles such as AUVs and ROVs to provide an interface for routing power, data and signals to and from different parts of the system. They typically consist of two parts – the receptacle, which contains pins, and the plug, which contains sockets that the pins mate with.
The number of contacts in a connector can range from one to several hundred. Connectors may house contacts of mixed size with a variety of wire gauges, and may perform more than one function, transmitting power as well as data and signals in the same interface, and even mixing fibreoptic cables with low and high-voltage wires. Such multimode connectors offer significant weight and space savings for UAVs and other SWaP-conscious applications.
Cheaper connector bodies may be made of plastic, and aluminium is common for higher-end components due to the lightweight yet rugged properties that are essential for unmanned aircraft. Connector backshells are available in a variety of different forms for specific applications such as panel mount, inline and right-angled. They may provide strain relief for the cable as well as EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) protection.
Most connectors operate using a push-pull mechanism, and circular connectors may have a bayonet locking system. Connectors with unique keying for mating pairs allow for prevention of user errors such as cross-mating or mis-mating, which may cause a system to malfunction or permanently damage the connector. This is a particular concern for larger modern unmanned vehicles, which can have a large variety of sensors and subsystems and thus very complex interconnections.
Many connectors, particularly those used in military applications and other harsh environments, have to be highly resistant to shock and vibration, such as in the conditions experienced during UAV landings. EMI issues are also a primary consideration due to the high data rates and multi-channel cables required by modern data and video streaming.