The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is developing a data link system that uses 3G to view live video feeds from distant drones.
The MoD is working with electronics firm Roke Manor Research (Roke) to develop the technology which will allow drones to communicate directly with ground-based cellular infrastructure at a distance of more than 50 kilometres.
Real-time images and video from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will be transmitted using 3G cellular technology similar to that found in mobile phones.
The system will be of a low size and weight and will aid the military in intelligence gathering.
The system will use commercial, off-the-shelf 3G hardware, which alone cannot successfully transmit from high altitude to a base station on the ground.
To achieve this, Roke is developing adaptive beamforming technology to intelligently direct the signal to a specific point on the ground, either to a commercial cellular infrastructure or to a dedicated military base station.
"There is a great deal of interest worldwide in 3G cellular providing high data-rate communications for the military and our system will be developed to meet the need not only for UAV-to-ground data links, but to satisfy an increasing need for extended-range terrestrial cellular communications systems," said Bob Dalgleish, business development manager at Roke.
David Cole, the company’s managing director, added: "Winning this award reflects Roke's track record of creating innovative solutions, using commercial technologies that deliver new capabilities that are of real value to military operations."
The research forms part of the MoD’s Defence Growth Partnership, a £10m Innovation Challenge that was launched in March 2015, with the aim of encouraging the development of modern defence products.
Yesterday, the MoD announced an £800m innovation fund to boost technological advancement in the UK’s defence sector.