As competition gets tougher, companies are looking to develop technologies with a wide appeal, or reuse existing technologies in new application sectors to reduce development costs and time-to-market, says Mark Patrick.
Throughout history, times of conflict have also been times of significant and rapid technological innovation as countries use all of their intellectual property to develop more sophisticated weapons and defence mechanisms. While innovations in the defence and aerospace sector continue to be important, increasingly we are seeing ideas migrate in the other direction – from commercial/consumer applications into defence applications.
Arguably, open architectures began in the defence/aerospace sector, primarily as a response to the need to configure systems using products from multiple manufacturers. As a result, a plethora of standards have been developed to define interfaces (among other things) ensuring that different manufacturers can co-operate and compete at the same time, while defence agencies can be assured that systems will work properly. This open architecture approach has now migrated to other sectors, most notably the IT sector.
The scale of the defence/aerospace industry and the ability to spend means that research and development is easier to fund, so innovation here migrates to other, less well funded, markets and application sectors. However, significant trends in the commercial/consumer space (such as mobile devices or wearables) are also being evaluated and adopted in the defence/aerospace sector. One major benefit of these common technologies is that it drives scale, making the technologies interesting for highly capital-intensive sectors (such as semiconductor) to invest in.
One area where the defence/aerospace sector is leading technology advancement is in the use of virtual reality (VR) and particularly augmented reality (AR). Through the use of AR, an ‘expert’ soldier can guide other soldiers in an operation from anywhere on the planet. In this way the best knowledge can be brought to bear in multiple locations without having to physically relocate the ‘expert’ personnel.
AR is allowing similar principles to be used in other sectors – where remote experts assist others – for example, a surgeon could assist another with a procedure remotely or a surveyor with experience in a particular building type could virtually ‘walk around’ with a colleague and point out features / issues. AR is further being investigated in many other commercial sectors including people recognition in customer service as well as security/law enforcement.
In the commercial and mHealth sectors, wearable devices have has a huge impact and now defence/aerospace is looking into how this can be used to monitor deployed soldiers. In-ear wearable (‘hearable’) devices can be used to locate personnel as well as continuously measure vital signs such as heart rate and body temperature. At the heart of this technology is an ultra-small analogue front end (AFE) from Texas Instruments – the AFE4410. The AFE uses biosensing to monitor oxygen consumption and heart rate using LEDs and photodiodes – with the device simultaneously driving up to three biosensing-optimised LEDs. The block diagram shown in Figure 1 highlights the main functions - a transimpedance amplifier, ADC, 128-sample FIFO, programmable LED driver and I2C/SPI interface. The highly integrated AFE solution is housed in a 0.4mm pitch DSBGA package measuring just 2.6mm x 2.1mm.
One technology with origins in the defence/aerospace sector that is almost ubiquitous in the consumer/commercial world is satellite navigation. Originally developed for military applications, satellite navigation is available in most cars, even economy models and also for users of smartphones allowing for a wider range of applications including personal navigation while walking or cycling and commercial applications such as asset tracking.
Maxim has a comprehensive single-chip solution – the MAX2769C – that is a GNSS based universal global navigation system. The device integrates a complete receiver chain and works across multiple positioning platforms including GPS, Galileo, BeiDou and GLONASS. The device is highly integrated, reducing the overall footprint (helped by a small 5mm x 5mm device footprint) and reducing the bill-of-materials (BoM) cost. The integration simplifies the design task as does the MAX2769CEVKIT evaluation kit, which is also available.
The defence/aerospace sector has also given the world remotely piloted vehicles, known as drones or, more formally, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Increasingly these UAVs are becoming more intelligent and can self stabilize and also determine their own flight paths, avoiding objects as necessary. UAVs can be used in commercial applications to save the cost of a human pilot in an aircraft and are commonly used for inspection in remote locations as well as providing alternate viewpoints for construction projects and the like.
In general, UAVs are getting smaller and more sophisticated – such as the Outrider from Lockheed Martin. Weighing just 1.7kg and only 10cm wide, this ultra-small UAV is canister launched and offers a viable alternative where conventional larger UAVs would not be a feasible solution.
UAVs are brimming with technology to allow them to fly safely and accurately as well as keeping them within the ever-growing regulations that now apply to them. Positional awareness is key to a successful drone and this means much more than just position on a map – accurate knowledge of altitude, velocity, inclination, attitude and rotation are essential. Yet, any solution to sense these parameters must be small, light and efficient given the very nature of a small aerial vehicle. Increasingly, microelectronic mechanical systems (MEMS) are used to provide this functionality.
MEMS are ideal for UAVs and other applications that require small size and low power such as wearable devices. By combining multiple MEMS sensors into a single package/device, inertial measurement units (IMUs) now provide a single chip solution that is ideal for positional awareness applications in UAVs.
The SCC2230-E02 from Murata is one example of an IMU that has been specifically designed for positional awareness applications in UAVs. As shown in Figure 2, this device combines a three-axis accelerometer with an angular rate sensor, which are built on Murata’s high aspect ratio 3D-MEMS technology. As the device senses movement internal variable capacitances change value and the resulting signals are processed by a dedicated signal processing ASIC that outputs data via an SPI interface.
Radar was a wartime invention that is now seeing a new lease of life in new application sectors. Modern automated driver assistance systems (ADAS) use radar as one technology to identify obstacles that need to be avoided by the driver and, ultimately, autonomous vehicles will need to be able to avoid obstacles themselves through the use of Radar. Similar technologies are being employed in UAVs to allow them to plot their own course around obstacles.
The EV-RADAR-MMIC2 Radar evaluation platform from Analog Devices eases the task of implementing Radar functionality. The kit includes the ADF5901 24GHz transmitter, ADF5904 24GHz receiver and ADF4159 13GHz PLL devices that together allow designers to construct a frequency modulated continuous wave (FMCW) radar system.
As competition gets tougher, companies are looking to develop technologies with a wide appeal, or reuse existing technologies in new application sectors to reduce development costs and time-to-market. As such, the edges between many vertical sectors are now being blurred. AR technology designed for gaming may well be used in an operating theatre, GPS systems for military use now guide motorists to their destination, personal fitness technology are used to monitor soldiers on the battlefield and so on.
As companies seek a competitive edge we fully expect to see significant reuse of existing technologies in new application sectors.
About the author:
Mark Patrick is the Supplier & Technical Marketing Manager EMEA of Mouser Electronics. Mark joined Mouser Electronics in July 2014 having previously held senior marketing roles at RS Components. Prior to RS, Mark spent 8 years at Texas Instruments in Applications Support and Technical Sales roles and holds a first class Honours Degree in Electronic Engineering from Coventry University. For details, contact Helen Chung, Asia PR Specialist of Publitek, on email:firstname.lastname@example.org