AeroVironment, Inc., a developer of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), has unveiled its new Mantis i45 electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) gimbal payload, designed for the company’s Puma AE (All Environment) small unmanned aircraft systems – for both commercial and military applications. The new gimbal was announced at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) XPONENTIAL 2016 conference and trade show in New Orleans.
“The Mantis i45 represents a dramatic leap in small UAS image resolution and approaches capabilities inherent in platforms many times the size and cost of Puma AE,” said Kirk Flittie, vice president and general manager of AeroVironment’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems business segment. “This enhanced capability enables commercial and military users to see more and farther, with greater detail, than ever before, make better decisions and perform their missions with greater certainty. The AeroVironment Mantis i45 represents a significant increase in performance for Puma AE intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.”
In combat, the Mantis i45 empowers operators to identify targets more accurately and with greater detail while operating even farther away from the target. The higher resolution imagery also aids in target analysis, positive identification and better enables operators to identify threats to friendly forces.
With an advanced suite of sensors, including ultra-high-resolution EO and IR imagers, key features of the Mantis i45 include: dual-color cameras (wide and narrow views); improved IR imagery; new low-light camera; high-power illuminator; 50-times zoom in EO; optional on-board storage of high definition video and high-resolution stills; and a dedicated on-board image processor.
Among its many enhancements, the Mantis i45 offers a wide range of night-time solutions, from low-light near-infrared (NIR) to long wave infrared (LWIR) imagers. In addition, it is a backward-compatible, fully waterproof payload capable of operating under the same harsh environmental conditions as the AeroVironment Puma AE system, which is designed for both land-based and maritime operations.
Like previous Puma AE payloads, the Mantis i45 retracts into the fuselage for launch and recovery to protect the gimbal during the highest loading portions of its operation. During flight operations, it provides full lower-hemisphere coverage and continuous zoom.
The AeroVironment Mantis i45 is highly configurable and can cater to a diverse set of missions. The modular hardware is capable of supporting a wide variety of imagers, enabling rapid development of custom configurations to meet future needs.
The AeroVironment Mantis i45 also provides improved image quality performance at increased zoom levels. Improvements in sensors, control algorithms and drive mechanics yield a high degree of mechanical stability in a small, waterproof gimbal system. Augmented with improved on-board digital stabilization, the AeroVironment Mantis i45 delivers excellent video stability.
“With its increased capability, we worked to ensure the high reliability that our customers expect from the i45,” Flittie said, “and this design meets more rigorous standards than any previous Puma AE payload.” The fully waterproof design protects against sand, dust, rain, salt fog, snow, mud and 100 percent relative humidity conditions, and reliably withstands the shock loads that result from the precision deep-stall landings employed by the Puma AE.
Size, weight and power (SWaP) also were critical design considerations. A payload shell similar to that of the standard Puma AE payload houses the Mantis i45 and installs in an identical manner onto the Puma AE platform. “Even with its valuable new capabilities, the i45 is no larger than its predecessor,” Flittie said.
No modifications to the Puma are needed to incorporate the i45. Additionally, power- conscious processors onboard the i45 optimize power consumption, resulting in minimal performance impact to the Puma aircraft while delivering dramatically improved capabilities.
The gimbal open system architecture offers maximum flexibility to facilitate easy future expansion. Its design also supports a wide variety of camera formats, so new camera technology can be integrated into the system with minimal development.