The Scout unmanned aerial vehicle, which is manufactured by Waterloo, Ont.–based Aeryon Labs and distributed worldwide by Datron World Communications, now sports Flir's Tau 320 and Tau 360 infrared cameras in its payload and features longer propeller and rotor arms. The former is to enable nighttime operations, while the latter is to allow the UAV to fly at much higher altitudes while maintaining its wind resistance. Currently the UAV can fly in sustained winds of roughly 31 mph and withstand gusts up to 50 mph.

In addition, a new version of the UAV's operating software has been released that features an "auto-grid" function, according to Chris Barter, Scout product manager.

"It allows you to program a set of variables into the Scout," Barter said. "Let's say you want it to go 80 meters up and take one photo every three seconds over a 3-kilometer area. You can get a very large perspective of what's going on."

The idea would be to use the camera's zoom function to take multiple images and then layer them atop each other. "What you get is a highly detailed map of what you just surveyed," Barter said.

Perhaps the most important recent development is the "significant investment" that Datron has made in Aeryon Labs. Though the company declined to divulge the dollar amount, Barter said that it is enough to allow Aeryon to add 10-15 new engineers. "They'll all be working on Scout," he said.

The idea is to speed up development of the second generation of the UAV, which will reflect the feedback of military and public safety entities that have been testing the drone over the past year. One item that will be addressed is battery life.

"We've been told that they want 45 minutes to an hour of flying time, and right now they get 20 to 30 minutes." Barter said. "So, we're finding that while Scout currently is fulfilling a lot of needs, the Holy Grail in terms of battery life is an hour."

The next generation also will be more durable, and in making it so engineers will focus on benchmarks established by the U.S. Army for its UAVs. "Primarily they look for the ability to handle harsh weather," Barter said.

However, Scout already can take "a helluva beating," according to Barter. "It takes a lot to knock it out of the sky," he said.

Earlier this year, the current version was upgraded with a streamlined and more rugged payload housing that replaced the original clear plastic bubble; this not only improved durability but also made the UAV more aerodynamic. In addition, carbon fiber was added to the rotor blades to improve wind resistance and a heat sink was added to protect the UAV's components in very hot climates.

Regarding payloads, several new items are being considered — including soil collectors, Geiger counters and listening devices — but the next generation will continue to focus solely on cameras that deliver video and still images.

"We don't have anything on the roadmap, but that's because we don't have any customers right now specifically asking for anything beyond what we've got," Barter said. "But we've investigated a whole ton of really exciting payloads that we could do. Because it's an open-architecture payload system, it's also open-ended as to what we can do."