UAVs, or drones, have been around for decades. Original drones resembled early generation fighter jets controlled from the ground and used as targets for test pilots. As time passed, drones served as high-tech reconnaissance platforms and high-precision offensive weapons in military applications
In recent years, drones have found many commercial uses as well. Popular e-commerce platforms and global retailers are using drones for order delivery. Hobbyists and tourists use commercial drones for unique photo and video opportunities. Academic and scientific drone uses abound as well.
In the electronics world, Moore’s Law has defined decades of innovation. The latest commercial drones feature smaller sizes, increased functionality, and advanced AI capabilities using the latest silicon technology. A good example combining these innovations is the ModalAI® VOXL® 2 Autopilot.
What is the ModalAI VOXL 2 Autopilot?
VOXL 2 is the world’s most advanced Blue UAS Framework autopilot at its size built in the USA. At only 16 grams, VOXL 2 boasts more AI computing than any other autopilot on the market and offers four times the computing of the previous generation VOXL.
VOXL 2 integrates a PX4 real-time flight controller with an 8-core CPU, a GPU and NPU that provide a combined 15 Tera Operations Per Second (TOPs), seven image sensors, and TDK IMUs and barometer. With support for Wi-Fi, 4G and 5G connectivity, VOXL 2 enables mission critical use cases with reliable connectivity and GPS-denied, beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) navigation. This smaller-than-a-business-card and lighter-than-a-double-a-battery supercomputer will enable the next generation of smaller, smarter, and safer drones.
As part of the Blue UAS 2.0 program, VOXL 2 condenses most required electronics into a single PCB, making it SWAP-optimized to power the smallest drones. Before VOXL 2, developers might take a “Frankenstein” approach to building a robot with individual PCB components which could negatively affect the size and weight of the robot. VOXL 2’s advanced onboard computing and SWAP-optimized design eliminates the time and complexity that comes with sourcing and synchronizing individual autonomy components together.
Samtec High-Speed Interconnect Solutions
The ModalAI VOXL 2 platform utilizes several of Samtec’s high-speed board-to-board interconnects as shown below.
J3 corresponds to the Legacy Board-to-Board Connector (B2B). This interface hosts various VOXL add-on cards such as:
- M0017 USB Debug Add-On
- M0030 LTE Modem Add-On
- M0048 Microhard Modem Add-On
The VOXL 2 Legacy B2B Connector utilizes Samtec’s Q Strip® High-Speed Mezzanine Connectors. Q Strip connectors have SMT signal contacts and a ground plane for improved electrical performance. Eight different stack heights are available from 5 – 30 mm. Options include guideposts for blind mate scenarios as well as alignment pins and locking clips for proper connector placement before reflow.
J5 corresponds to the High-Speed Board-to-Board Connector (HSB2B). This interface hosts various VOXL add-on cards such as:
- M0062 – Debug/PCIe Add-On
- M0067 – 5G Add-On
- M0090 – 5G Add-On
The VOXL 2 HSB2B Connector utilizes Samtec’s AcceleRate® HD Ultra-Dense Multi-Row Mezzanine Strips. AcceleRate HD connectors are rated for 56 Gbps PAM4 on a 0.635 mm pitch. They feature high-speed Edge Rate® contacts designed for high-speed, high-cycle applications.
The surface of the contact is milled creating a smooth mating surface, which reduces wear on the contact increasing durability and cycle life. Also, lower insertion and withdrawal forces allow zippered unmating.