Budapest-based Hi Aero is preparing to fly an advanced vision-based guidance system aboard its developmental Hi-View small UAV as part of an ongoing project led by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (SzTAKI) to develop a combined navigation and surveillance suite wholly based on automatic optical recognition.

The project, initiated in 2005, saw a series of data-gathering flights of a basic system aboard a Hi-View test bed between April and mid-October of that same year. The next series of flight trials, to be carried out over the next three months, will aim to demonstrate an initial navigation capability aboard a UAV that is flying a predefined flight path, and validate the ability of the combined guidance and sensing suite to operate autonomously.

Project ALFA – or Autonomous Aerial Reconnaissance and Navigation – is intended to result in an operational light-weight hybrid navigation and surveillance system that can support autonomous UAV operations in complex environments.

The system fuses imagery from low-light digital camera and infra-red imagers in real time to guide the air vehicle and extract situational awareness data from the surrounding environment. The processing algorithms incorporate recognition and intelligent evaluation functions.

The dual-sensor approach is intended to optimise the system for operations in extremely low light or obscured climatic conditions such as fog, smoke or dust, says Dr Csaba Rekeczky, principal investigator from SzTAKI.

Hi Aero took over development of the Hi-View in March this year from Hungarian firm HM EI Rt, which held the original development and services contract with SzTAKI, in March 2006.

Hi Aero managing director Richard Glover says a revised configuration of the all-composite Hi-View aircraft is currently at an advanced stage. It features strengthened wings and fuselage to support future payload expansion requirement, as well as reduce overall system weight. Work is also underway on replacing the existing gasoline power plant with an electric engine to reduce airframe vibration influences during the coming flight test campaign.

The ALFA payload is simultaneously undergoing weight-reduction efforts, with the final suite, comprising sensors and processors, anticipated to weigh less than some 2kg (4lb 6oz) including power supplies.

Hi-View has a 3.4m (11ft) span and a length of 1.6m. It can fly at speeds of 25-77kt (45-140km/h) with an endurance of up to 6h. Maximum take off weight is 11kg.

The primary flight test site for the ALFA programme is the Gödöllő civilian airport, northeast of Budapest.

A commercially ready version of the complete system for civil purposes, comprising ALFA suite and Hi-View, is in planning says Glover. Potential roles include natural disaster monitoring, environmental survey, area surveillance, police and fire response.

HI Aero has been providing fire watch services to civil authorities in the Eastern Hungarian town of Szendrő, on the border with Slovakia, since August 2006. That operation uses the Hi Aero Gabbiano UAV system, a 5.5kg hand launched all-composite aircraft equipped with infra-red and electro optic sensors.