9 April 2010
Skylark: one of the UAVs used in Australia (photo : Elbit)
UNMANNED aircraft may be detecting the weather, monitoring crops and patrolling Australia's borders in the next decade.
The government communications authority has begun considering ways to allocate the spectrum space needed to communicate with the equipment to avoid interference with defence force communications.
The issue of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) emerged in a five-year outlook on the country's spectrum issues that was released by the Australian Communications and Media Authority last week.
Although the US defence force has been using the vehicles for a considerable time, it was only last September that it was announced the Australian air force would use them, acquiring an unspecified number of Heron UAVs.
The defence force is the only Australian user of unmanned aircraft, relying on the spectrum bands within 230-400 MHz, 2.9-3.4 GHz and 4.4-5 GHz.
''Defence states that these are mission-critical communications that must not suffer harmful interference,'' the authority's report states.
Spectrum demand for UAVs was expected to increase significantly over the next decade, with UAV use in civilian applications seen as a developing market.
Applications such as weather research, crop monitoring and coastal patrols ''may be introduced in Australia in the future''.
The vehicles can be controlled remotely or fly autonomously based on programmed flight plans or automation systems that respond to the environment.
Unmanned vehicles have already been tested in a UAV Challenge event in Queensland each September that is intended to spur the development of civilian applications of the technology.
While the Australian authority has raised the issue, it will be relying on action taken at the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2012 to ensure global consistency in the spectrum allocated for the technology. The issue has been placed on the conference agenda.