Omnetics has released the following article detailing how the the increasingly challenging requirements of modern unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have driven the advancement of interconnect solutions used in these platforms.
The field of UAV electronics is rapidly expanding to serve new devices mounted onboard airborne autonomous systems. Advanced sensors, tracking devices, attitude management systems and other onboard elements have extended our reach, our capability and our appetite for more integrated devices.
Gyroscopic flight management and obstacle avoidance are required to run constantly on the UAV itself, while high-speed LiDAR and multispectral imaging systems collect and process significant quantities of digital data. For instance, high speed surveillance often requires cameras to run at 60 frames per second and download images at 7 gigabits/second.
The UAV must be able to support this signal speed and quality from the camera to its storage or transmission module, and the associated connectors and cabling must be lightweight and rugged and be able to withstand constant temperature changes. The connectors may also include power within the same cable to avoid redundant wiring.
Much of the information is processed onboard, and either analyzed onboard or transmitted back to ground control centers. This data may be used for a variety of applications, from aerial surveys for civilian uses such as highway traffic control to battlefield analysis and planning. As eVTOL (electrical vertical take-off and landing) platforms emerge for autonomous passenger transport, the scope expands to include vertical and horizontal flight data during each trip as well as human safety control systems for use in emergencies.
The need to route signals and preserve signal integrity in advanced UAVs has also driven the development of more advanced cable and connector designs needed for interconnecting the gyros, sensors, motors and actuators within the aircraft. Fortunately, many newer electronic devices operate on significantly lower current and voltage levels, allowing the wiring to be smaller and more flexible as well as much lower in weight, giving UAVs extended flight time and/or load capacity. Connector suppliers have combined the features of highly mobile ruggedized interconnections with reduced size and customized cabling to serve these new applications.
Micro- and nano-circular connectors can be smaller and shaped uniquely if needed. They are then mated with customized cabling that can be designed to route from a single subsystem to multiple circuits within the drone. Specialized cable wiring and wrapping combined with EMI and noise shielding are used to avoid exterior interference that can shut down the UAV. Similar specifications are being used to ensure that high speed differential signal data can easily commute to and from ground management units.
The older MIL-DTL-38999 circular connector has largely been replaced by a miniature 38999-sized connector manufactured by multiple companies and is fulfilling the higher amperage needs in many large UAVs. An even smaller micro-sized circular connector with a triple-start threaded coupling system is also available and further reduces size and weight while meeting the challenges of rugged performance.
UAV designers can manage their interconnection signal performance while simultaneously reducing size and weight thanks to today’s lower voltage and current level electronics. They can also benefit from additional focus on digital signal speed management and electrical noise protection. Designers can also save space and weight by easily mixing signal and power within the same cable. By working with connector design teams that use solid modelling, a first image can be completed in a couple of days, and once approved a 3D model is built quickly for a final “fit- check” within the UAV module.