U.S. Army Testing Autonomous Black Hawk Helicopter
December 6, 2012 10:00 AM
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Autonomous flight test lasted for two hours
The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center recently conducted a demonstration test of a specially equipped JUH-60A Black Hawk helicopter that needs no pilots to land, fly, and avoid threats. The helicopter has been dubbed the Rotorcraft Aircrew Systems Concept Airborne Laboratory or RASCAL.
The test of the RASCAL was conducted at the Diablo Mountain Range in San Jose, California. During the testing, pilots were onboard the helicopter but all flight maneuvers were conducted autonomously. During the two-hour flight, the RASCAL was able to navigate an obstacle field and use terrain-sensing capabilities, while performing statistical processing, risk assessment, threat avoidance, and autonomously operating flight controls in real-time.
"This was the first time terrain-aware autonomy has been achieved on a Black Hawk," said Lt. Col. Carl Ott, chief of the Flight Projects Office at AMRDEC's Aeroflightdynamics Directorate.
During the test, the RASCAL flew at between 200 and 400 feet above ground level. During the test, the helicopter was also able to identify a safe landing spot within a forest clearing and was able to hover 60 feet over the identified landing spot with within 1-foot accuracy.
"A risk-minimizing algorithm was used to compute and command a safe trajectory continuously throughout 23 miles of rugged terrain in a single flight, at an average speed of 40 knots," said Matthew Whalley, the Autonomous Rotorcraft Project lead. "No prior knowledge of the terrain was used."
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RE: I look forward...
12/6/2012 4:46:22 PM
It all comes down to cost-benefit analysis. Yes, you can put a top-secret unspoofable encrypted GPS unit on a UAV, but they cost a fortune, and, in and of themselves, probably pose a greater security risk if one of them were to fall into the wrong hands than the loss of the UAV itself, especially if something fails and the encryption keys don't get wiped.
It's kind of a different mindset with UAV's, at least the cheaper ones. You can kind of treat them like cannon fodder, as long as the bean counters feel it's worth the cost and risk of loss for a given mission. They're just machines (at least, until they get sick of it and decide to revolt :)).
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