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unmanned systems

Robotic Autonomous Activities Advance

December 13, 2012

A vision-driven robotic arm will enable the precise long-range delivery of a payload weighing up to one pound into difficult-to-reach environments.


Swarming to a Better Robot

November 1, 2012
By Max Cacas

Unmanned underwater vehicles mimic nature and collaborate on tasks.

Robotics experts are using the swarming behavior of insects and fish as a model for software that will operate the next generation of underwater robots. Fleets of robots not only will be able to navigate to a common goal, but they also will have the means to deal autonomously with unanticipated factors, much as insects and fish can change behaviors based on the circumstances.

In nature, a swarm consists of many individuals with the innate ability to behave individually but operate toward a collective goal as needed. In a similar fashion, scientists are developing advanced mathematical algorithms and software to give underwater robots the ability to navigate toward the same location while also enabling them to deal independently with changing factors such as currents, obstacles and even other approaching ships that are not part of the swarm.

The distinction between a group of robots that individually receive the same programming to reach the same goal and a group of robots that behave like a swarm is that the swarming vehicles collaborate to achieve a set of tasks, explains Pierre Lermusiaux, head of the Multidisciplinary Simulation, Estimation and Assimilation Systems (MSEAS) research group in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The set of tasks and the collaboration give the swarm a purpose, he adds, and that purpose becomes an added factor in the mathematical programming of the robots. Lermusiaux leads a team of mechanical engineering graduate students and research scientists with expertise in mathematical algorithms and their application in robotic systems.

Era of Change for 
Unmanned Systems

November 1, 2012
By George I. Seffers

The next five years will be as exciting as the last decade--but in a different way.

Unmanned vehicles will undergo an array of changes in the coming years brought about by the war in Afghanistan winding down, budgets tightening and the national strategy shifting toward the Asia-Pacific region. Adjustments may include the retirement of some unmanned air systems, a stronger focus on refining existing unmanned planes rather than fielding new ones and increased research and development of land and maritime technologies.

The U.S. military will not be fielding many new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the current war, but the situation is not all gloom and doom, says Dyke Weatherington, director, Unmanned Warfare and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Strategic and Tactical Systems in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. “The last 10 years have been very dynamic. We’ve seen rapid growth and huge increases in force structure. My guess is that the next five years will be equally dynamic in a different way. There’s huge potential for continued capability increases in ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] for the warfighter. I just think that’s going to look a little different than it has in the last 10 years.”

For the most part, that means the U.S. military will take capabilities it already has for UAVs and refine those as much as possible. Improvements could include fielding new capabilities to existing platforms, enhancing current payloads or reducing ownership costs, he explains.

Mixing With 
Manned Aircraft

November 1, 2012
By George I. Seffers

A new crash avoidance 
system will allow both 
manned and unmanned
 planes to operate 
in U.S. airspace. 

The U.S. Army is developing a collision avoidance system that will allow unmanned and manned aircraft to fly in the same airspace more easily and safely. The first-of-its kind system will enable service operators returning from the war zone to fly drones in the same U.S. skies as civilian aircraft, keeping the warfighters proficient and ready for the next conflict.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that a pilot be able to see and avoid other aircraft flying in the same airspace. But of course, drones have no onboard pilots. The Army currently has two FAA-approved options for meeting the requirement, and neither option is good, service officials say. The first is to fly a manned chase aircraft, such as a Cessna or a helicopter, behind the unmanned air system (UAS) to ensure it complies with FAA safety regulations. “It’s expensive. You can’t chase at night, and you can’t chase in clouds, so warfighters are limited,” says Viva Austin, Army product director for the Unmanned Systems Airspace Integration Concepts office. Another option is to use ground observers, but the observer must remain within about a mile and a half of the aircraft.

Pennsylvania State to Technologies for Unmanned Systems

September 30, 2011
By George Seffers

The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, was awarded a $34,077,057 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the research and development services in support of electro-optical and infrared technologies; night vision technology; and laser technologies and payloads for unmanned platforms. The U.S. Army Contracting Command, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, is the contracting activity.

Air Force Tilts Toward Unmanned Aircraft

May 2011
By Robert K. Ackerman, SIGNAL Magazine

Future aircraft that break into several pieces mid-flight may represent a technological advantage rather than a catastrophic incident. The U.S. Air Force is looking to develop unmanned aircraft that introduce a new set of capabilities not available with humans in the cockpit. Among these many future possibilities are transformer-type vehicles that split into separate flying segments and then reattach when their mission is completed.

Seeing Eye Systems Learn to Discern

May 2011
By Maryann Lawlor, SIGNAL Magazine

Persistent surveillance has been pegged as a crucial capability in current and future operations. Mind’s Eye is one of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) newest and most aggressive efforts to improve conditions for warfighters on the ground. The agency is working with the U.S. Army, industry and academia to create a way to educate video collection devices. Although existing cameras and sensors capture activity in an area, the mounds of visual data they collect are overwhelming to analysts and warfighters alike. Once visual intelligence is achieved, these information mountains will become actionable knowledge molehills that can be sent to commanders and perhaps directly to warfighters’ handheld computers in the field.

Robots Arming for Combat Duty

May 2011
By George I. Seffers, SIGNAL Magazine

Unmanned ground systems on the battlefield provide critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data and help counter improvised explosive devices. Now, ground robots are positioned to expand into armed missions in Afghanistan.

Battlefield Robotics: A New "Leash" on Unmanned Life

September 13, 2010
By Beverly Schaeffer

The notion of robots as trusted companions on the battlefield is no longer limited to the scope of science fiction or TV adventure. With the U.S. Army's Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance and its members forging ahead on autonomous technologies, warfighters may just very well have their own "Lassie" to save the day. What more can be done to enhance robotic artificial intelligence to benefit the troops? Share you ideas here.


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