Unmanned aircraft are already the result of the ultimate “taking out” step in aircraft design: the shifting of the on-board human operator to the ground. Is there anything else that could be moved outside of its current location?
This is where a systems-level view may help. Which elements of the system have to be on board?
- • Can the mass of the avionics be reduced by moving the heavier data processing tasks to the ground-based parts of the system or to the cloud? (What are the penalties of the additional communications bandwidth that may be required?)
- • Can the power source be left on the ground? The most trivial case of this might be tethering the aircraft with a cable to a ground-based battery or generator. More boldly, could energy be transmitted wirelessly to the aircraft (e.g., via a laser beam)?
- • Can a set of batteries be removed altogether and substituted with solar panels or some other energy harvesting system?
- • Could the undercarriage be left behind to minimize weight (trolley take-off or U-2 style fall-away gears)?