Effectiveness of Inter-Vehicle Communications and On-Board Processing for Close Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle (UAV) Flight Formations

Lidia Toscano


The small size, full-featured autopilots, and on-board processing of UAVs make them highly versatile. They can be used to search in inaccessible areas, conduct Battle Damage Assessment (BDA), provide battle commanders with real-time intelligence, and, most importantly, protect our military force where loss of life is imminent. The goal of this research was to integrate two or more small Unmanned Airborne Vehicles (UAVs) to successfully employ cooperative communication using three Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) components: a BeagleBone Black on-board microprocessor, the Pixhawk autopilot, and Open Source Software (OSS) Drone Kit-Python. These components are readily available and have a low-cost factor. To baseline functionality, this project prototyped and tested two Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs). Successful integration of hardware and software components was demonstrated resulting in cooperative communication of two UGVs in formation. Experimentation found that the best root-mean-squared distance was 4.0 m that occurred at an update rate 20Hz. Confidence level calculations indicated a follower UGV can safely navigate at a 2.5 m distance in close formation. A variety of qualitative observations were captured indicating the maturity of this cooperative architecture and readiness to implement across multiple UAVs in military applications.