Reports such as "$10M to Utah State to Help Ease ISR Bandwidth Crunch" (11-Sep-2007 14:45 Watershed Publishing LLC), indicate that networking and image processing will be exploited to reduce bandwidth:
However, a better way to reduce data transmission is not to send the data in the first place. The typical UAV is really just a remote control airplane, like a larger version of a hobby plane. With a little more intelligence the camera can just transmit when there is something interesting to see and at a resolution the user requires. The images can be zoomed in on to provide a high resolution view of a small area. Progressive scanning schemes can be sued to give a low resolution preview and then add detail of the area of interest. The aircraft can store the data for later replay. These are all capabilities available in web image formats and with off the shelf open source web server technologies, rather than something needing millions of dollars in research.
Utah State University Research Foundation, North Logan, Utah, is being awarded $10M for cost-plus-fixed-fee completion task order #0007 under previously awarded contract (N00173-02-D-2003) for research in the area of Time Critical Sensor Image/Data Processing. Specifically, they will research advanced . ... massive bandwidth crunch being created by hundreds of video-equipped UAVs and networked airborne ISR systems sending video back to base. ... The Naval Research Laboratory, in Washington, DC issued the contract.
A hand launched UAV could use a small off the shelf computer such as the business card size Via Mobile-ITX which is intended for use in a smartphone.