Lab UAV for Wireless Communications

The accessibility of small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) has increased dramatically over the past few years. UAVs are now much more affordable to build and manufacture. The decrease in cost is sparking interest in utilizing UAV in commercial applications in various fields including security, disaster relief, infrastructure inspection, and telecommunications. DWSL is investigating wireless applications for low-altitude multicopter UAVs equipped with software-defined radio (SDR) platform. The lab is currently building a low-cost UAV-SDR hexacopter testbed using popular off-the-shelf multicopter components and a lightweight SDR system.

Figure 1: UAV Mounted with Monopole Antenna

The UAV-SDR testbed will be used for various experiments to determine the wireless channel characteristics that SDR systems on a UAV will experience, improve and secure wireless links for communication to and from a UAV, and test UAV-SDR prototypes geared for specific commercial applications.

  • Air-to-ground channel characterization: The channel between a UAV and users on the ground is poorly understood and has not been explored for low-altitude multicopter environments. We aim to utilize our UAV-SDR hexacopter testbed to measure the characteristics of the air-to-ground channel. We will then use the channel characterization information to assess the expected performance of an SDR equipped UAV for various applications.
  • Link Optimization: DWSL has implemented machine-learning based antenna selection algorithms for directional reconfigurable antennas. We will adapt and implement these algorithms on the UAV-SDR testbed to improve air-to-ground link quality.
  • Aerial Access Point: UAVs have the ability to create aerial networks that can quickly respond to flash demands. The small size and flight characteristics of a multicopter make it practical to quickly deploy an aerial access point to provide service coverage over an area of interest for communication search-and-rescue type applications. We plan to implement an access point using our UAV-SDR testbed to experiment with network based applications for UAVs.
  • UAV Security: The advent of UAV technology creates a new horizon in drone security. Nearly all UAVs are controlled by an operator on the ground via a control link. Securing and maintaining this control link is crucial to maintain control of the aircraft and prevent hijacking attacks. The UAV-SDR testbed can be used to examine exploits in current UAV control link implementations and develop more secure methods of UAV command and control.
Figure 2: UAV hung from ceiling grid for wireless channel measurement using Alford Loop Reconfigurable Antenna
Figure 3: UAV flight test
Figure 4: Alford Loop Antenna on UAV