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Rockwell Collins develops stamp-sized GPS device for mini drones

August 08, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan
  • The stamp-sized MicroGRAM device, left, promises to provide precise and secure GPS technology for the kind of small drones that police agencies want to use to spot runaway criminals.
The stamp-sized MicroGRAM device, left, promises to provide precise and… (Rockwell Collins Inc. )

LAS VEGAS -- Two of the major challenges the government faces in attempting to allow thousands of small drones into U.S. airspace are knowing where the aircraft are in relation to other aircraft flying nearby and making sure they're safe from hacker attacks.

Rockwell Collins Inc.  believes it has addressed both concerns with a device that's slightly larger than a postage stamp.

The company's unassuming MicroGRAM device promises to provide precise and secure GPS technology for the kind of small drones that police agencies want to use to spot runaway criminals.

"It's the smallest device out there with this kind of capability," said Dave Schreck, Rockwell's director of unmanned aerial systems and control technologies.

MicroGRAM has been in production since March, but Rockwell spoke about its capabilities Tuesday at this week's Assn. for Unmanned Vehicle Systems trade show in Las Vegas. Hundreds of robot makers have gathered here to show off their wares.

The device provides anti-jamming and anti-spoofing protection. So if a hacker tries to commandeer the drone by sending false GPS signals to trick the aircraft's receiver -- like what was recently demonstrated at University of Texas  at Austin -- the ne'er-do-wells will be locked out.

Drone hacking is a concern that has risen ever since the government revealed plans to integrate drones into U.S. airspace by 2015.

Rockwell's MicroGRAM is currently on drones built by AeroVironment Inc. of Monrovia, the nation's biggest supplier of small robotic planes.

"When people see how small it is, I hear them gasp," said Trevor Overton, Rockwell's MicroGRAM program manager. "We think this device provides the kind of capabilities that the unmanned aircraft community is interested in."

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