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Wifi on the Fly: Drones to Deliver Mobile Hotspots

by Bryant Jordan on May 5, 2014

RQ-7B ShadowThe military may soon be deploying air-mobile hotspots so that troops operating in remote locations can communicate with support units.

The Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, or DARAPA, said Phase 2 of the program began in March with teams integrating the developing technology into pods that will be mounted onto RQ-7 Shadow UAVs and mobile ground vehicles.

The Shadow, which weighs from 187 pounds to 375 pounds, depending on mission payload, is used for surveillance and reconnaissance by Army and Marine Corps units.

“The successes—and the novel networking approaches needed to maintain these high-capacity links—are key to providing forward deployed units with the same high-capacity connectivity we all enjoy over our 4G cell-phone networks,” DARPA Program Manager Dick Ridgway said in a statement.

The plan is to provide tactical units operating remotely with 1 gigabyte-per-second, or Gb/s, of reliable communications backbone.

For the program DARPA developed steerable millimeter-wave antennas that quickly pick up, track and establish communications links between moving air and ground vehicles, low-noise amplifiers that boost communication signals while minimizing noise and more efficient millimeter-wave amplification necessary for long-range operation.

The agency also developed new approaches for overcoming network and connectivity problems related to signal blockages stemming from terrain.

The Mobile Hotspot technology has been packaged in a so-called L-SWAP – for Low-Size, Weight, and Power – pod, which can be made compatible not only with ground vehicles, but also the RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle. According to the DARPA statement, the pods are no wider than 8 inches, weight less than 20 pounds each and consume less than 150 watts of power.

Next up will be a ground demonstration using at least four of the pods mounted to Shadows, two to ground vehicles and one to a fixed location on the ground, according to DARPA.

For Phase 3 the Mobile Hotspot systems will be field tested using multiple Shadow UAVs and mobile ground vehicle.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Blake May 5, 2014 at 1:56 pm

DARPA should make their own commercial like Verizon.

you know. where they have dots all over a map that shows their 4G coverage.


ken May 5, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Cool. Access to porn no matter where our guys are! ;-)


Larry May 5, 2014 at 2:59 pm


Define "Soon".


hibeam May 5, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Google drones will be delivering groceries within a few years if the government can get their act together and get the hell out of the way. Think of the energy savings. We don't need to use 3000 pound SUVs to pick up a six back of beer and a bag of chips.


afret1991 May 5, 2014 at 3:51 pm

maybe the gubment will pick up your kids with a drone and drop them at school, maybe the drones will land on your roof and leave your groceries on it, maybe the drones will attach to your flying harness and take your to work and drop you there. Really man, its all just so lalalalalaaaaa. Get off the drugs, lol lol


jake May 5, 2014 at 4:27 pm

First of all why this system would cause more problems than it fixes… This is because of hardware; if the drone malfunctioned, got shot down or attacked, the equipment on board would fall into enemy hands and communications would be breached in that area… If salvagable then it could be set up or reused by the enemy… Satellites are the more secure effective method.


guest May 5, 2014 at 4:52 pm

I don't know what country you're from but Wifi isn't exactly cutting edge technology that would change the course of war if the enemy got there hands on it!


Paragrouper May 6, 2014 at 12:58 pm

"Satellites are the more secure effective method"

Umm, no.


ajspades May 6, 2014 at 2:18 pm

In any conflict there is a risk of enemies or others obtaining our hardware/software/liveware. And like any risk, we weigh the risks against the benefits; in this case, the benefits outweigh the risks.


tmb2 May 6, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Why would my wifi antenna be flying above the enemy and not friendly troops?

If a wifi UAV were shot down it'll probably be a safe bet the comms wouldn't survive the fall and the COMSEC would be cancelled anyways.

Communications via satellite is VERY expensive and would have very low bandwidth compared to a wifi antenna.


blight_ May 6, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Mesh networking is more likely. Each vehicle will be a node to transmit and receive, along with other items deployed to propagate the network, such as UAVs.

For positioning, Receivers GPS-guided to touchdown at day zero with reasonably accurate fixes would be used as baseline references for when the GPS constellation is destroyed, at least in the local area. Presumably a means of passive triangulation would also exploit enemy cell phone, radio, TV towers and location triangulation for increased position fix.


hibeam May 5, 2014 at 8:54 pm

The government tried to put cameras on poles along the Southern border 10 years ago. Cameras on poles. They could not pull it off. Spent a couple hundred million and then gave up. Pretty sure it was the poles that stumped them. Drones are very useful. The government just needs to get the hell out of the way and it will happen.


Phantom4597 May 8, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Sure have come a long with with communications for troops in contact since the fall of 1965. Our 13th Signal Battalion, 1st Cav Div hung FM antennas out the back of caribous and set up re-trans capabilities that were brand new for its time. Still glad we had innovators then, and it sounds like we still attract smart guys and gals willing to continue making positive changes. In the final analysis, the soldiers in contact are what its about.


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