Novel Multifunctional Materials and Lightweight Structures for Improved Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Mission Capability

Navy SBIR 23.2 - Topic N232-086
NAVAIR - Naval Air Systems Command
Pre-release 4/19/23   Opens to accept proposals 5/17/23   Closes 6/14/23 12:00pm ET    [ View Q&A ]

N232-086 TITLE: Novel Multifunctional Materials and Lightweight Structures for Improved Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Mission Capability

OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Advanced Materials;Renewable Energy Generation and Storage

OBJECTIVE: Develop novel integrated multifunctional materials and lightweight structures to increase performance of small, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

DESCRIPTION: UAVs play an increasingly important role on the modern battlefield. Computing hardware and mass manufacturing have made camera-equipped, man-portable UAVs readily available. In order to maintain a technical advantage and increase mission capabilities, the state of the art in small UAV design and operation must be advanced by the use of novel materials and structural concepts.

UAV performance could be improved by consolidating functions through the use of multifunctional materials, or novel lightweight materials. Multifunctional materials are any material or structure that integrates two or more previously separate functions. Some examples include sensors, circuitry, antennas, batteries, fluid conduits, or actuators that are embedded within, comprised of, or make up structural members [Refs 1�4]. Lightweight materials are those that advance the state of the art by making use of novel lightweight/high-strength materials and manufacturing technologies, to ensure the final part meets or improves design performance requirements and service life. Some examples include novel applications of additive manufacturing, aerogels, graphene, carbon nanotubes, or other technologies to reduce aircraft weight while maintaining structural integrity.

Proposed concepts should seek to advance the state of the art of the design and construction of Group 1�3 UAVs. New materials, technologies, or methods shall utilize novel multifunctional or lightweight/high strength materials and structural components to enable UAV designs with improvements in weight, range, and/or time on station as compared to those constructed from conventional materials.

Proposed concepts should:

Introduce new technologies, materials, or methods, which advance the state-of-the-art of UAV design through the use of multifunctional or novel lightweight materials.

Avoid areas that have already been well-explored (e.g., using topology optimization to design single-function structure) without adding significant novel value.

Be readily applicable to aircraft structural components.

For multifunctional materials, present the expected net weight savings vs using commercially-available, single-function alternatives.

For novel lightweight/high-strength materials, present comparison of the expected specific strength as compared to conventional metals/composites for aircraft structural components.

Present analysis of the ease/feasibility of manufacturing of the concept.

PHASE I: Demonstrate the proposed concept through laboratory bench testing and/or coupon testing, as appropriate. Develop material properties, based on proposed concept, for use in commercial finite element analysis tools such as ANSYS, ABAQUS, and so forth. Demonstrate the feasibility of the proposed concept by developing models to predict material behavior and model all intended functions of the concept (i.e., for multifunctional materials all intended material functions should be modelled). The Phase I effort will include prototype plans to be developed under Phase II.

PHASE II: Expand on Phase I work to refine and further develop the original concept by creating and evaluating prototype parts or structures. Produce, in a production-relevant environment, a representative full-scale prototype part or structure and demonstrate its performance in a simulated or realistic environment. Identify and evaluate risks, roadblocks, and challenges of full-rate production. Specific target parts for weight reduction are to be provided as appropriate during this phase.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Validate and demonstrate an aircraft-ready part as provided in Phase II. Develop solutions to the risks, roadblocks, and challenges of full-rate production as discovered in Phase II. Commercial demand for small UAVs is increasing as the technology becomes more mature. Industries such as farming, land management, and last-mile delivery are exploring or already using systems comparable to Group 1�3 UAVs. Materials or methods developed as part of this SBIR will have direct private sector commercial potential, as they would serve to increase the overall efficiency and capability of such systems.


  1. Asp, L. E., Bouton, K., Carlstedt, D., Duan, S., Harnden, R., Johannisson, W., Johansen, M., Johansson, M. K. G., Lindbergh, G., Liu, F., Peuvot, K., Schneider, L. M., Xu, J., & Zenkert, D. (2021). A structural battery and its multifunctional performance. Advanced Energy and Sustainability Research, 2(3), 2000093.
  2. Xu, J., Geng, Z., Johansen, M., Carlstedt, D., Duan, S., Thiringer, T., Liu, F., & Asp, L. E. (2022). A multicell structural battery composite laminate. EcoMat, e12180.
  3. Shemelya, C. M., Zemba, M., Liang, M., Espalin, D., Kief, C., Xin, H., Wicker, E. W., & MacDonald, E. W. (2015, April). 3D printing multi-functionality: Embedded RF antennas and components. In 2015 9th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation (EuCAP) (pp. 1-5). IEEE.
  4. Sairajan, K. K., Aglietti, G. S., & Mani, K. M. (2016). A review of multifunctional structure technology for aerospace applications. Acta astronautica, 120, 30-42.

KEYWORDS: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle; UAV; Multifunctional; Material; Structure; Lightweight; Optimization


The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the Navy Topics in the DoD 23.2 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at for any updates.

The DoD issued its Navy 23.2 SBIR Topics pre-release on April 19, 2023 which opens to receive proposals on May 17, 2023, and closes June 14, 2023 (12:00pm ET).

Direct Contact with Topic Authors: During the pre-release period (April 19, 2023 through May 16, 2023) proposing firms have an opportunity to directly contact the Technical Point of Contact (TPOC) to ask technical questions about the specific BAA topic. Once DoD begins accepting proposals on May 17, 2023 no further direct contact between proposers and topic authors is allowed unless the Topic Author is responding to a question submitted during the Pre-release period.

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Topic Q & A

5/16/23  Q. Could a MMC materials integration scheme be considered "multi functional"? In others words a process scheme provides a material in one location that meets a desirable need which is integrally bonded in a structure, in a single process step that meets a different need in another area. So multifunctional but not necessarily through out the monolith.
   A. We would prefer �multi functional� as integration of various distinct functionalities such as combining structures with electrical or thermal.
5/15/23  Q. Does the structure have to multifunctional and lightweight at the same time? What would make an internal structure multifunctional?
   A. The structure does not have to be multifunctional and lightweight at the same time. It�s up to the small business concert to propose.
5/15/23  Q. For a structural battery related proposal, is there a preference towards using existing, commercially produced cells to take a portion of the airframe loading versus a new and completely integrated structural battery?
   A. It�s up to the small business concern to propose.
5/11/23  Q. Would a novel lightweight material for wear components, be an appropriate submission?
   A. It�s unclear on what specific wear components you are referring to, but we�re interested in any novel lightweight material for airframe applications.
5/5/23  Q. Is this topic seeking to primarily to improve energy generation/flight time? Would a soft robotic morphing structure allowing a UAS to become a UUS or USV be an appropriate submission?
   A. This topic is seeking solutions that are focused on UAV airframes (i.e. skins and internal structure) in order to augment current mission capability. A solution such as this is outside the scope of the topic.
5/2/23  Q. Is there an estimate to the power requirements of the systems utilizing these technologies?
   A. No power requirements were specified because of the broad nature of this topic. However, technologies developed under this effort should not require significant amounts of power. For the case of integrated electronics, for example, the power draw should not exceed the traditional equivalent of that device.
5/2/23  Q. Should the increase in cost to produce these items vs standard layouts also be analyzed in the early phases of the project?
   A. A preliminary cost assessment at the end of Phase I would be beneficial.
5/2/23  Q. Is the technology expected to handle harsh environments? If so, what temperatures, weather, and altitudes might it need to handle?
   A. A specific platform has not been identified for transition yet, so there are no specific requirements regarding environment. However, all technologies will need to qualified with MIL-STD-810G testing in Phase II or beyond. Relevant environments from that specification can be tentatively assumed until a platform is identified.
5/2/23  Q. Within the Group 1-3 realm, are there UAV sizes that are specifically being targeted for this technology?
   A. No, a specific platform has not been identified for transition yet.
5/2/23  Q. If electronics are to be integrated into the structure, is it necessary that they are electronics generally required by all UAVs or can they be optional solutions commonly utilized such as range finders or pitot tubes?
   A. A specific platform has not been identified for transition yet, so there are no requirements specific to this question. �Electronics generally required by all UAV�s� would likely be a safer approach with more commercialization potential.
5/2/23  Q. Are fixed wing, VTOL, or both types of UAVs being targeted by this technology?
   A. Both
5/2/23  Q. Would a lightweight/high strength autonomous release device be an applicable submission? This allows air drop cargos, ie. AUV's to be autonomously released from cargo platfoms.
   A. Depending on the specifics, the proposed �autonomous release device� will likely not meet the requirements of the topic. This topic is seeking solutions that are focused on UAV airframes (i.e. skins and internal structure).

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