Researchers are developing a network of wirelessly linked robotic planes and terrestrial rovers.
The portable airborne network system, developed by scientists at UCLA, is called the Multimedia Intelligent Network of Unattended Mobile Agents (Minuteman). It is to provide a communications backbone for an array of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned group vehicles (UGVs).
The objective behind the Minuteman project is to let the Navy deploy intelligent, networked sensing agents in battlefield conditions to gather intelligence and carry out attacks.
Mario Gerla, UCLA professor of computer science, heads the $11m, five-year project funded by the Office of Naval Research.
According to Gerla, the network could also aid emergency workers responding to natural or manmade disasters.
One of the challenges, said Gerla, would be transmitting multimedia streams with bandwidth guarantees in order for the UAVs to gather intelligence at the front position.
Traditional methods do not meet these needs, he added, noting that researchers had replaced the concept of guaranteed quality of service with that of "adaptively renegotiable" quality of service.
For instance, the video signal must be dynamically adjusted to the available bandwidth. "To this end, our team is developing innovative, flexible video encoding schemes," Gerla said.
Some agents could also support multiple functions, such as a UAV which could be used as a node on the network, a remote camera for gathering intelligence video as well as a weapon.
The network could also be rerouted as necessary should natural occurrences or enemy actions throw a spanner in the works. "If one plane goes down, we don't want to lose the whole network," Gerla said.
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