Whether mustering cattle on vast outback stations, searching for missing bushwalkers or conducting military operations on the ground, the advantages of seeing "over-the-hill" without having to move from your current location don't need to be spelled out. These are among the planned applications for the AVATAR Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), an Australian developed autonomous reconnaissance plane capable of transmitting real-time images back to a laptop computer over a 10 km range.
The AVATAR's modular design fits in a backpack and it takes approximately 10 minutes to assemble it in the field. Once assembled the vehicle weighs 5kg and measures just over 2.5m wide and 1.3 m long, small enough to be easily hand-launched. The electric propulsion system provides over 60 minutes airtime (the goal is to increase this to 120 min) and the low acoustic, thermal and radar signatures that result from the design are important military considerations.
With the flight path entered via a laptop and using GPS based navigation, the AVATAR carries a payload of two closed circuit video cameras with optional configurations including high-resolution digital still cameras and night vision available.
The basic platform costs approximately AUS$50,000 and the AVATAR developers, Codarra Advanced Systems, state that it will serve in a range of civilian roles as well as be equipped for specialised military applications such as thermal-imaging and laser-range finding in the future. "AVATAR is a fantastic platform to extend situational awareness" according to Warren Williams, Codarra Advanced Systems Managing Director, "the Army is currently trialling the AVATAR and a major research organisation is partnering with Codarra to extend the AVATAR capability".