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unmanned systems

Artificial Fish Dives Into Unknown Waters

August 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

 

Domestic security officials aim to replace human divers with an autonomous underwater vehicle whose design is derived from nature: the tuna, one of the fastest and most maneuverable fish in the sea. The vehicle would be used primarily to inspect ship hulls for contraband, saving divers from hazardous trips into hard-to-reach areas below the waterline where oil and other toxic chemicals are part of the mix. Designers also envision the tuna-modeled robot could also be used for search and rescue missions.

The Biomimetic In-Oil Swimmer (BIOSwimmer) is an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) being developed by Boston Engineering Corporation’s Advanced Systems Group, in Waltham, Massachusetts, for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This tuna look-alike can be operated either by remote control with a tethered cable or pre-programmed to operate autonomously, according to David Taylor, specialist, cargo security, Border and Maritime Security Division, Science and Technology Directorate, DHS, and program manager for the BIOSwimmer program.

“It was originally designed as a vehicle that could go inside cargo tanks and look in oil cargos for contraband,” he explains. Based on subsequent feedback from DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) field officers, the BIOSwimmer’s design has been modified to function primarily as an AUV that examines ship hulls.

Software Increases 
Unmanned Craft Survivability

August 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers and Robert K. Ackerman

 

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing new control software to reduce the vulnerability of unmanned systems to cyber attack. This effort is relying on new methods of software development that would eliminate many of the problems inherent in generating high-assurance software.

Unmanned vehicles suffer from the same vulnerabilities as other networked information systems. But, in addition to their data being co-opted, unmanned systems can be purloined if adversaries seize control of them. This problem also applies to human-crewed systems with computer-controlled components.

If the research program is successful, then unmanned vehicles will be less likely to be taken over by an enemy. Warfighters could trust that the unmanned vehicle on which they are relying will not abandon its mission or become a digital turncoat.

This security would extend to other vulnerable systems as well. Networked platforms and entities ranging from automobiles to supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems could benefit from the research. The vulnerability of SCADA systems is well-established, but only recently has research shown that automobiles can be co-opted through their computer-controlled systems. The program’s goal is to produce high-assurance software for military unmanned vehicles and then enable its transfer to industry for commercial uses.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program is known as High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems, or HACMS. Kathleen Fisher, HACMS program manager, says the program is aiming to produce software that is “functionally correct and satisfying safety and security policies.

“It’s not just that you’re proving the absence of a particular bad property from the security perspective,” she explains. “You’re actually positively proving that the software has the correct behavior.”

Coping With the 
Big Data Quagmire

August 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

 

Researchers at one of the premier national laboratories in the United States are prepared to hand the Defense Department a prototype system that compresses imagery without losing the quality of vital data. The system reduces the volume of information; allows imagery to be transmitted long distances, even across faulty communications links; and allows the data to be analyzed more efficiently and effectively.

The Persistics computational system developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL) derives its name from the combination of two words: persistent surveillance. The system is designed to revolutionize the collection, communication and analysis of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data so that warfighters do not find themselves drowning in a swamp of too much information. The ground-based system has demonstrated 1,000 times compression of raw wide-area video collections from manned and unmanned aircraft and a tenfold reduction of pre-processed images. Standard video compression can achieve only a 30 times data reduction.

The existing data processing infrastructure for national security is not designed for the amounts of information being generated by unmanned aerial systems and other platforms. In addition, the communication bandwidth supporting data transmission for air to ground and the archive storage capability are too slow to support fast-turnaround human analysis, according to LLNL researchers. “These [ISR] cameras are picking up more data than we know what to do with, and there are not enough humans on the ground to analyze every pixel,” explains Sheila Vaidya, deputy program director, defense programs, Office of Strategic Outcomes, LLNL.

Unmanned Systems Soon May Offer Universal Remote

May 9, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

Unmanned vehicles may become joint platforms as new software allows operators using a standard control system to use craft employed by different services. So, an Army squad deep in the battlefield may be able to use data accessed directly from a Navy unmanned aerial vehicle to bring an Air Force strike to bear against enemy forces.

Unmanned Cargo System Faces Uncertain Future Following Afghanistan Deployment

May 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

U.S. Navy and Marine Corps officials describe the K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter as having met or exceeded requirements in Afghanistan, but they also report that the Marines have not yet developed requirements for the system to become a program of record and say they are unsure what effect sequestration will have on the system.

The Marines deployed two K-MAX aircraft to Afghanistan in late 2011 as part of an urgent operational need to ferry supplies to and from forward operating bases, reducing the number of manned flights or vulnerable convoys in an attempt to reduce casualties. The deployment is designed to demonstrate the system’s capabilities, and the Marines recently announced the indefinite extension of the K-MAX mission in Afghanistan. To date, the unmanned helicopters have delivered more than 3.2 million pounds of cargo and continue to keep ground convoys off the roads, significantly reducing Marines’ exposure to improvised explosive devices and other lethal threats, Marine officials say. The system carries supplies such as ammunition, food and water, generators, medical supplies and even mail.

Maj. Daniel Lindblom, USMC, operations officer for Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3, said during a May 1 teleconference with reporters that the system’s performance “has been absolutely superb.” The unmanned helicopter offers some advantages to manned aircraft, especially for emergency resupply missions. “That’s where we really make our money,” says Maj. Lindblom. “The ability for us to plan on the fly and execute on the fly is quite a bit better, in my opinion, than manned aircraft.”

Advanced Capabilities Required for Future Navy Warfighting

April 4, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

Future conflicts likely will be fought in degraded information technology environments, which will require the U.S. Navy to develop and exploit new capabilities to continue to operate in contested cyberspace. Technologies such as a flexible information grid, assured timing services and directed energy weapons must be part of the naval information system arsenal if the sea service is to maintain information dominance through the year 2028.

These were just a few of the findings presented in the Navy’s Information Dominance Roadmap 2013-2028, which was released in late March. Presented by Rear Adm. William E. Leigher, USN, the Navy’s director of warfighter integration, the report outlines the growing challenges facing the fleet and how the Navy must meet them.

The report divides information dominance challenges into three areas: assured command and control (C2), battlespace awareness and integrated fires. While the United States will continue to maintain supremacy in those areas, that supremacy is shrinking as more nations are closing the gap between U.S. capabilities and the ability to disrupt them.

Among the advanced capabilities the Navy will require toward the end of the next decade is assured electromagnetic spectrum access. Achieving this will entail fielding greater numbers of advanced line-of-sight communication systems; being able to monitor combat system operational status and adjust it using automated services; having a real-time spectrum operations capability that enables dynamic monitoring and control of spectrum emissions; and generating a common operational picture of the spectrum that is linked to electronic navigation charts and displays operational restrictions.

Modernized Marine Drone Casts a Large Shadow

April 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The upgraded RQ-7 could play a significant role in the Asia-Pacific region.

The U.S. Marine Corps could potentially begin fielding newly upgraded RQ-7 Shadow systems as early as next year, according to experts. The new version of the combat-proven aircraft is fully digitized, improves interoperability, can be teamed with manned aircraft and provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data to a broader range of warfighters, including manned aircraft crews. The upgraded system is intended to serve as an interim capability until the Marine Corps can field a larger, more capable unmanned aircraft.

The Shadow unmanned aircraft system (UAS) has flown more than 800,000 flight hours with more than 90 percent of those during combat. Both the Marines and the Army use the system. The Army is the lead service, integrating Marine Corps requirements with its own.

Shadow is being modernized with an array of upgraded capabilities, including a Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL); a universal ground control station capable of controlling multiple systems, including Gray Eagle and Shadow; and a Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS). It also is being given a longer wingspan to increase time on station from six hours to 10 and more capable engines. Additionally, the military seeks to weaponize the system.

The Marines already have pulled the Shadow from Afghanistan, but the modernized system could play a significant role in the future. “As we look toward the Asia-Pacific region, we need more capable solutions that will allow us to feed data to the warfighter,” says Maj. Nicholas Neimer, USMC, the Marine Corps tactical unmanned aerial system coordinator. “Everything we do as far as improvements is to deliver real-time data to the warfighter and provide knowledge at the point of action.”

Two-in-One Unmanned Aircraft

February 25, 2013
By George I. Seffers

U.S. Navy technology may allow in-flight conversion from helicopter to fixed wing.

Researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are developing unmanned aircraft technology that will allow the conversion from a vertical take-off and landing system to a fixed-wing craft during in-flight operation. The conversion capability will provide the take-off and landing flexibility of a helicopter with the longer range, higher speeds and lower wear and tear of an airplane.

The technology demonstrator is referred to as the Stop-Rotor Rotary Wing Aircraft. It is capable of cruising at about 100 knots, weighs less than 100 pounds and can carry a 25-pound intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) or electronic warfare payload, such as the Expendable, Mobile Anti-submarine warfare Training Target (EMATT). “We decided to do a demonstration vehicle that could carry an EMATT. It’s like a little submarine that can generate sonar signals, and it’s for training anti-submarine warfare operators,” explains Steven Tayman, an aerospace engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory. “It’s a neat payload.”

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) includes a removable payload bay that is about 12 inches wide, 38 inches long and six inches deep with “bomb bay doors” for dropping payloads, such as sonobuoys. “You could use a UAV to deploy a sonobuoy field, which would be pretty exciting,” Tayman says. “There’s really no limit to the payload other than volume.”

NASA Leverages 
Video Game
 Technology for Robots and Rovers

February 11, 2013
By Max Cacas

Earthbound technologies and computer programming that make most popular video games possible are driving development of the remote-controlled robots now in use by NASA in the unmanned exploration of Mars and the solar system. Those improvements in both hardware and software also spur innovation in the next generation of robots envisioned for use by government and industry. That is important because NASA recently has proposed a new, multiyear program of sending robot explorers to Mars, culminating in the launch of another large scientific rover in the year 2020.

“The technologies and the software that the video game industry has developed for rendering data, scenes, terrain—many of the same visualization techniques and technologies are infiltrating into the kinds of software that we use for controlling spacecraft,” according to Jeff Norris, manager of the Planning and Execution Systems Section with NASA’S Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. In a similar way, joysticks and gaming consoles such as the Microsoft XBox Kinect are examples of gaming technology hardware that have functional analogues in the systems used to control robotic spacecraft.

Sensor, Listening
 Device Integration
 Provide Battlefield Intelligence Boon

February 1, 2013
By Clarence A. Robinson Jr.

Industry opens up an array of real-time imaging

Sweeping advances in sensor technologies are enabling wide-area airborne persistent surveillance on both manned and unmanned aircraft. Emerging sensor systems can provide high-resolution mosaic imagery for large swaths of the battlefield while focusing on individual objects.

These intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensor systems are winning their spurs on the battlefield in Afghanistan. They are meeting combat commanders’ urgent operational requirements to provide city-size area coverage. These sensors simultaneously can focus on and track individual vehicles and dismounted hostiles.

Sensor systems such as the Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Imaging System (ARGUS-IS) offer radical improvements for ISR. This sensor system was developed for special operations by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). BAE Systems provides the optics and processing technologies. Argus was envisioned to be mounted in a pod on the A-160 Hummingbird (SIGNAL Magazine, June 2007, page 43, “High Hover”) unmanned rotary wing aircraft headed for Afghanistan. However, an A-160 crash during trials prior to deployment is delaying the move.

Testing with the sensor pod mounted on a Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopter continues before combat deployment. This slight deployment delay also is enabling incorporating more recent advances in both sensor and processing technologies. ARGUS-IS also may be mounted on other unmanned aircraft, such as the MQ-9 Reaper, extending time on station. The camera is being considered for additional multiple wide-area persistent surveillance programs.

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