unmanned systems

December 1, 2020
By George I. Seffers
While human cyborgs may still be the stuff of science fiction, the science may be a little closer to reality following breakthroughs in materials used for neural links and other implants that offer a wide array of benefits, including potential medical advances. Credit: Ociacia/Shutterstock

Electronic implants in the brain or other parts of the body may be more efficient and effective due to a recent breakthrough by researchers at the University of Delaware. The advance potentially offers a wide array of biotechnology benefits and could also allow humans to control unmanned vehicles and other technologies with the brain.

September 25, 2019
Posted by Julianne Simpson
Close-up of a "smarticle"—smart active particle—showing the two 3D-printed arms, light sensor and motor. Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech

Researchers have taken a new approach to developing robots—using smaller robots known as “smarticles” to unlock the principles of a potentially new locomotion technique. The 3D-printed smarticles—short for smart active particles—can only do one thing: flap their two arms. But when five of these smarticles are narrowed in a circle, they begin to push one another, forming a robophysical system known as a “supersmarticle” that can move by itself. Adding a light or sound sensor allows the supersmarticle to move in response to the stimulus.

March 4, 2019
By George I. Seffers
The Defense Advanced Research Agency’s Artificial Intelligence Colloquium being held this week in Alexandria, Virginia, will include a panel discussion on the ethics issues surrounding the use of artificial intelligence. Credit: Shutterstock

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) officials will include a panel discussion on ethics and legal issues at the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Colloquium being held March 6-7 in Alexandria, Virginia.

“We’re looking at the ethical, legal and social implications of our technologies, particularly as they become powerful and democratized in a way,” reveals John Everett, deputy director of DARPA’s Information Innovation Office.

May 22, 2018
By Robert K. Ackerman
A commercial drone serves as a proof-of-concept vehicle as the U.S. Marine Corps works toward autonomous supply delivery via unmanned aerial vehicles. Once further developed, the same technology could provide relief to a civilian populace devastated by a natural disaster.

The U.S. Marine Corps is exploring the use of a family of unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver vital supplies to Marines in combat. Drones would remove humans from the dangerous role of forwarding essential logistics to warfighters while allowing greater flexibility of delivery.

Once developed, these drones also could have civilian emergency response applications. Instead of speeding ammunition to Marines on the front lines, the vehicles would be used to provide emergency supplies to civilians left without power, food or clean water following a natural disaster. Either mission would have the same sense of urgency; only the cargo would be different.

May 1, 2018
By Maj. Ryan Kenny, USA

Unmanned systems and robots are rapidly changing the character of warfare. As the U.S. Defense Department considers their increased use, the time is ripe to discuss both the opportunities and challenges these autonomous systems present on and off the battlefield for military communicators. Communicators deliver and protect command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) services. Unmanned systems rely on digital communication channels to execute tasks and share information. The more systems, the more links required.

The scope of managing these channels is set to explode.

February 7, 2018
By Robert K. Ackerman
Lt. Gen. Robert S. Walsh, USMC, commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, discusses Marine Corps innovations in the Wednesday keynote address at West 2018 in San Diego.

The already-complex Marine Corps mission is about to become more intricate as the Corps strives to incorporate new methods of warfighting and countering enemy capabilities. Viewing adversaries has given the Corps a glimpse of the future, and major changes lie over the horizon.

These points were hammered home by Lt. Gen. Robert S. Walsh, USMC, commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, speaking at the day two morning keynote address at West 2018 in San Diego. From amphibious assaults to information warfare, the Marines are incorporating new capabilities that will lead to an entirely new way of waging combat, the general allowed.

July 1, 2017
By Robert K. Ackerman
Smoke rises from an unmanned aerial vehicle after it was engaged by a counter system in March during the Hard Kill Challenge in New Mexico. Sponsored by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization (JIDO), the challenge focused on stopping the growing threat posed by unmanned aerial systems. Photo by 1st Lt. Chelsi Spence, USAF, DTRA

Long a tool of allies trying to foil improvised explosive devices, unmanned systems now may be entering the fray against friendly forces. Both terrorists and nation-states are striving to employ these systems, especially airborne platforms, to deploy new types of improvised threats against U.S. and coalition forces.

July 1, 2017
By Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC (Ret.)

Robots, drones, automated devices—they are but a few of the names given to unmanned systems proliferating across the military and the commercial sector. The sky’s the limit for unmanned aerial vehicles, and no ocean is too deep for their underwater counterparts. Yet the potential for these devices, which seems unlimited, is being hindered by the human element they support. Planners must abandon convention and explore disruptive approaches that will allow unmanned systems to reach their full promise.

May 1, 2017
 

The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate has announced a $199,814.31 award to Asymmetric Technologies LLC, to enhance U.S.

April 7, 2016
By Sandra Jontz
DARPA's Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) prototype makes a dry run in Portland, Oregon. Officials christened Sea Hunter on Thursday.

The Defense Department's futuristic research agency reached a huge milestone in its robot sea vessel program Thursday, christening the unmanned prototype "Sea Hunter" and entering a two-year extended test phase.

September 1, 2015
By Steven Litwiller and Brian S. Talicuran

Despite substantial increases in capability and applications, U.S. and multinational robotics and autonomous systems have limited information interoperability, convoluting an already complex data-sharing environment. The U.S. Defense Department finds itself in a predicament created by rapid and independent fielding of systems over the past 10 to 15 years along with the use of proprietary software and payload and bandwidth restrictions.

September 1, 2015
By Daniel DuBravec

Early this year, violent floods brought immense destruction to communities in the Zambezia province of central Mozambique, Africa, endangering thousands of children and adults. Floods ravaged the region, decimating roads and bridges; 70 percent were unusable for ground vehicles, and some were unmanageable even by foot. In the absence of electrical power and a way to resupply gasoline for generators, refrigerated vaccines became unusable. Furthermore, damaged roadways meant that much-needed supplies never arrived.

February 1, 2015
By George I. Seffers
Robotic swarm technology is inspired largely by the natural behavior of insects, birds and fish.

Unmanned systems deployed in ones and twos already have changed some aspects of warfighting, whether collecting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data or dealing with roadside bombs. When deployed in tens, hundreds or even thousands, robotic systems may change the very nature of warfare, providing greater standoff, increased lethality and enhanced survivability while driving up the costs of war for potential enemies.

February 1, 2015
By George I. Seffers
The Black Hornet Nano-sized unmanned air vehicle has been deployed to Afghanistan with international forces and is one of many systems included in experiments conducted by the U.S. Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Georgia. A pocket-sized system could be carried into battle by a squad leader to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data.

U.S. Army officials envision a future in which robots are integral members of the team performing a range of missions, whether hunting for roadside bombs, searching for threats inside buildings, lugging heavy equipment or packing heat in the form of a light machine gun or missile launcher for troop protection. The Army’s existing robotics road map is updated routinely, but now officials are looking for ways to realize their vision sooner than planned.

December 1, 2014
By George I. Seffers
The X-47B unmanned air vehicle takes off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. The U.S. Navy recently conducted the fifth series of at-sea tests, proving that a manned and unmanned aircraft can maintain a takeoff and landing pattern aboard an aircraft carrier.

U.S. Navy officials have, for the first time, proved that the unmanned X-47B aircraft and an F/A-18 Hornet can operate at the same time within the same aircraft carrier-controlled landing pattern. Manned and unmanned aircraft flying from the same flight deck may change the way warfighters operate in the decades to come. They would improve carrier air wing proficiency by providing persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting and strike capabilities, offering warfighters greater flexibility and reducing danger to aircrews.

December 1, 2014
By Rita Boland

A developmental U.S. Navy project aims to provide a creative solution to the challenge of how to move unmanned underwater vehicles to their proper point for submersion. The project is creating a bio-inspired seacraft that will use flight to reach its destinations.

July 14, 2014
By George I. Seffers

The U.S. Army’s Project Manager of Robotic Systems Joint Project Office, Warren, Michigan, is conducting market research to see what companies can provide a lightweight common robotic system (CRS) for dismounted soldiers.

July 1, 2014
By George I. Seffers

The inertial navigation system (INS) market size is estimated to be $2.75 billion in 2014 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10.98 percent to reach $4.63 billion by 2019, according to Research and Markets, a Dublin-based market analysis firm. Though North America and Europe have the largest market for INS in terms of commercial and defense aviation, military and naval applications, a lot of INS development programs have been launched in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

June 30, 2014
 

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, California, is being awarded a $63,070,969 modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-07-C-0055) for the Phase II continuation of post-demonstration activities in support of the Navy Unmanned Combat Air System program. These activities include continued X-47B aircraft systems, test bed and flight test support at both shore-based locations and associated carrier detachments, continued development of Fleet Concepts of Operations, X-47B maintenance support, lab and test bed operational support and continued flight test opportunities. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contract

June 30, 2014
 

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Integrated Systems Sector, San Diego, California, is being awarded an $8,465,734 modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-12-C-0126) for the extension of engineering and software sustainment services in support of the Vertical Take-off and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Fire Scout MQ-8B. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity.

May 22, 2014
By George I. Seffers

Just as the U.S. Navy initially resisted the transition from sail to steam-powered ships and elements of the Army dismissed air power and fought against the shift from horses to tanks, some parts of the military continue to resist the expansion of uninhabited systems into traditional combat roles. As a result, the U.S. Defense Department is failing to invest in game-changing technology that could increase efficiencies and save lives, according to a just-released report from the Center for a New American Security.

May 2, 2014
 

Longbow LLC, Orlando, Florida, was awarded a $25,197,219 modification (P00006) to contract W58RGZ-12-C-0049 for the production of 17 radar electronics units and unmanned aerial system tactical common data link assemblies, a P4.00 software upgrade, and associated gold standard hardware for production testing. Army Contracting Command, Redstone, Alabama, is the contracting activity.

May 1, 2014
By Sandra Jontz

A bill introduced this week in the House of Representative would compel the U.S. Defense Department to create an office specifically to oversee unmanned systems strategy. Introduced by Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA), the creation of the office is part of the Asia-Pacific Region Priority Act.

April 8, 2014
By George I. Seffers

The U.S. Navy has successfully demonstrated the Autonomous Aerial Cargo and Utility System (AACUS), which allows current, full-size helicopters to be remotely controlled by a tablet device. Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, USN, chief of naval research, recently revealed that two young Marines at Quantico, Virginia, were able to land a full-size helicopter autonomously on an unprepared landing site with just one touch on a mini-tablet.

April 1, 2014
 

Insitu Inc., Bingen, Wash., is being awarded $8,355,422 for firm-fixed-price delivery order 0025 against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-12-G-0008) for the hardware and services required to operate, maintain, and support previously procured RQ-21A EOC unmanned aircraft systems in support of overseas contingency operations. Hardware and services to be provided include spare and consumable parts and in-theatre field service representatives to supplement Marine Corps operators and maintainers. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

March 27, 2014
By George I. Seffers

Thales recently announced the company has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Qatar Armed Forces to assist in the development of an Optionally Piloted Vehicle-Aircraft (OPV-A), a high-performance intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance system. The OPV-A will be a hybrid between a conventional and unmanned aircraft capable of flying with or without a pilot on board. Unimpeded by a human’s physiological limitations, an OPV-A is able to operate under more adverse conditions and/or for greater endurance times. The airframe, to be selected by the Qatar Armed Forces, will be integrated with a mission systems capability to enable the optionally piloted capability.

February 13, 2014
By Robert K. Ackerman

The U.S. Navy will depend heavily on technology innovation to meet increasing operational demands on a fleet that is aging and suffering from budget constraints, according to the vice chief of naval operations. Adm. Mark E. Ferguson, USN, told the audience at the Thursday luncheon town hall that the Navy needs to work cooperatively with industry to develop the innovative technologies and capabilities it needs.

“The best ideas come out of your laboratories,” he said, addressing industry representatives. “The edge we will need will come from innovation.”

February 11, 2014
By Robert K. Ackerman

Unmanned systems for reconnaissance, surveillance and warfighting have grown so quickly in popularity that they are spawning a familiar list of challenges that must be met sooner rather than later. Many of these issues have arisen with other military technologies that became popular quickly, and planners found that fixing these problems was significantly more difficult the deeper the technologies were embedded in everyday military operations.

December 30, 2013
By Maryann Lawlor

The Federal Aviation Administration has announced the six unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) sites available for conducting operations research and testing. Test site operators will perform their research at the University of Alaska; Griffiss International Airport, New York; Texas A&M University; and Virginia Tech, as well as in the states of Nevada and North Dakota. Investigations will include system safety and data gathering; aircraft certification; command and control link issues; control station layout and certification; ground and airborne sense and avoid capabilities; and environmental impacts.

December 11, 2013
 

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) demonstrated the launch of an all-electric, fuel cell-powered unmanned aerial system (UAS) from a submerged submarine. Operating under support of the USS Providence and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center-Newport Division, the NRL developed the eXperimental Fuel Cell (XFC) UAS, which was fired from the submarine’s torpedo tube using a Sea Robin launch vehicle system. The Sea Robin launch system was designed to fit within an empty Tomahawk launch canister (TLC). Once deployed from the TLC, the Sea Robin launch vehicle with an integrated XFC rose to the ocean surface.

August 6, 2013
 

 

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is encouraging the U.S. Coast Guard to work with industry to identify the latest unmanned vehicles to improve maritime safety and security while saving money. In a recent Congressional Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation hearing, Hunter, the chairman of the subcommittee, shared that he has seen a commercially built autonomous surface vehicle that can facilitate sub-sea to surface to satellite communications.

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. The capability is being made possible through a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project that adds depth perception to the range of unmanned aerial hover vehicles’ features. Using stereo vision, the unmanned aerial vehicle can estimate a target’s position relative to the hovering aircraft in real time, and then the system tracks where the payload must be placed and the motion of a robotic arm. Control logic maneuvers the vehicle and directs the robotic arm to engage a designated target and to place the payload.

September 30, 2012
 

The U.S. Army’s Project Manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (PM UAS) is partnering with academic institutions to build on lessons learned in combat. Officials aim to advance the operational understanding of UAS technologies and explore a range of rapidly expanding uses for them, including within U.S. airspace. For example, unmanned aerial vehicles could be used in disaster response and humanitarian relief efforts as well as environmental and law enforcement initiatives. For some projects, the agreements will enable students to visit U.S.

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.

September 13, 2010
By Beverly Schaeffer

It's nice when Fido obeys commands, but isn't it even better when he instinctively anticipates those directives? Apply this concept to unmanned systems-robotics to be exact-and the warfighter has a more foolproof companion by his side on the battlefield. That's the idea driving the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance (CTA) to advance the state of the art in unmanned technologies and move them more quickly into theater. Robots will eschew remote-control guidance, relying on programming that gives them autonomy via artificial intelligence.

December 1, 2014
By Sandra Jontz
Scientists from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory test an unmanned system to deliver a blanket to a wounded soldier, part of a developing concept to use unmanned assets as protective platforms.

How do you stop a rifle round shot at a soldier’s head? Researchers from the U.S. Army and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are in the nascent stages of developing technologies to field unmanned assets that might do just that.

The U.S. military for decades has employed unmanned systems—from dropping bombs miles above the Earth’s surface to detecting underwater mines from miles below. Now, researchers and scientists are on the threshold of tweaking the technology as part of a new concept for the use of unmanned assets, which could bring an army of autonomous protective robots to the battlefield.

October 15, 2014
By Sandra Jontz
An unmanned boat from Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock operates autonomously during a demonstration of swarmboat technology being developed by the Office of Naval Research.

With its developing fleet of autonomous “guard dogs,” the U.S. Navy is becoming more lethal and protective using the same technology.

The sea service is capitalizing on a first-of-its-kind autonomous technology, with software originally developed by NASA for the Mars Rover, which can transform just about any surface vessel into an unmanned platform able to protect other ships or “swarm” hostile vessels, officials say.

November 1, 2014
By George I. Seffers
SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific personnel and sailors from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit ONE retrieve an unmanned underwater vehicle deployed to detect mines and improvised explosives in shallow water environments.

As the U.S. Navy modernizes information systems across the fleet, one organization is responsible for researching, developing and fielding the full range of technologies in the Asia-Pacific region, providing complete life cycle development and support for systems, from concept to fielded capability.

September 1, 2014
By Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, USA (Ret.)

It really is the perfect weapon for a country of couch potatoes. Grab the remote, point, click and “boom,” there goes some hapless al-Qaida bigwig, blown to smithereens in living color. It is like playing “Call of Duty,” but with real ammo. That’s what smart operators can do with an MQ-1 Predator (as in “Apex”) or an MQ-9 Reaper (as in “Grim”). The bad guys never see them coming. Yes, for the United States, this truly is the day of the drone.

August 8, 2014
By George I. Seffers

Systems entered in the U.S. Navy’s 17th annual RoboSub competition, held July 28-Aug. 3, are far more sophisticated than the toys that competed in the first competition, which was launched in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“In the earlier days when we first did this, the systems were considered to be some kind of toys,” says Steve Koepenick, an autonomous systems expert with the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, which hosts the competition. “They are now tools. They’re part of the kit that our sailors and Marines take into theater with them. That’s reflected in the competition and the things the students are trying to do.”

September 1, 2014
By George I. Seffers
A NATO soldier launches a Prox Dynamics PD-100 nanocopter. The U.S. Army is using the system as a surrogate while developing the Cargo Pocket Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance system.

The U.S. Army is preparing—for the first time—to develop and field micro robotic systems under programs of record, indicating confidence that the technology has matured and years of research are paying off. The small systems will provide individual soldiers and squads with critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data in jungles, buildings and caves that larger systems can’t reach. Ideally, they will become valued combat team members.

July 18, 2014
By Sandra Jontz

The U.S. Navy's pet project for a carrier-launched unmanned aerial vehicle came under fire by experts this week, who told a congressional subcommittee that the sea service’s proposal is redundant, already obsolete and will leave naval forces with a vulnerable platform.

The Navy has dedicated years toward the creation of what it calls a "persistent, aircraft carrier-based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting and strike capability to support carrier air wing operations" platform, which has become known as the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system.

July 16, 2014
By George I. Seffers

The U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Lab this week wrapped up an Advanced Warfighting Experiment (AWE) in the jungles of Hawaii, which tested a total of 16 systems including unmanned ground vehicles. The experiment was part of the July 9 -14 Rim of the Pacific exercise and could help determine how future Marine forces will fight and which technologies they will use.

The experiment included Marines aboard Navy ships as well as three company landing teams, a relatively new organization construct for the service. The company landing teams are altered rifle companies and represent a different approach to the Battalion Landing Team.

August 1, 2014
By George I. Seffers

U.S. Army officials envision a future in which ground and air platforms share data and where soldiers at a remote forward-operating base easily can access information from any sensor in the area, including national satellites or reconnaissance aircraft flying overhead. To achieve this big data vision, the service has initiated three pilot projects designed to provide Google-style access in a tactical environment to the lowest echelon without overwhelming soldiers with unnecessary data.

July 2, 2014
By George I. Seffers

The Instant Eye small unmanned aerial system received approval last Thursday from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to be used by an energy company, which will conduct research, development and training to see if the system is practical for inspecting infrastructure such as pipelines, power lines and insulators on towers. It is the first unmanned quadrotor to receive FAA certification and may be the lightest aircraft ever certified. The approval opens the door for the system to be used for a wide range of commercial applications.

July 1, 2014
By George I. Seffers
DARPA’s Advanced Radio Frequency Mapping (RadioMap) program seeks to provide real-time awareness of radio spectrum use across frequency, geography and time.

U.S. Defense Department officials intend to complete a departmentwide spectrum strategy road map this month, which will make more frequencies available to warfighters, provide greater flexibility—especially for international operations—and ultimately allow warfighters to conduct their missions more effectively. At the same time, however, some are suggesting a nationwide strategy to allow for more innovative and effective spectrum management and sharing across government and industry.

August 1, 2014
By George I. Seffers
The rapid fielding office within the Pentagon helped develop the Accelerated Nuclear DNA Equipment system, which can process five DNA samples in about 90 minutes.

With the war in Afghanistan winding down, the U.S. Defense Department’s rapid deployment office, which specializes in identifying, developing and quickly fielding game-changing technologies, now will take a more long-term approach. Slightly stretching out the process will offer more flexibility to procure the best possible systems, will present more opportunities for interagency and international cooperation and may cut costs.

May 16, 2014
By George I. Seffers

Representatives from the U.S. Army and Air Force, along with 17 NATO nations and three partner nations, will participate in a joint reconnaissance trial at Orland Air Station in Norway May 19-28 to test and evaluate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) concepts and technologies. The Unified Vision 2014 (UV14) trial will be NATO’s largest-ever ISR trial and will be used as a major stepping stone to provide NATO warfighters with an enhanced set of ISR capabilities.

May 1, 2014
By Robert K. Ackerman
A U.S. Army soldier monitors information in a combined air and space operations center during a Red Flag exercise. Future U.S. Air Force networking will involve greater joint connectivity among its own air assets and land and sea units of other services.

The U.S. Air Force networking that links its air assets has extended its reach into the rest of the service and the joint realm as it moves a greater variety of information among warfighters and decision makers. This builds on existing networking efforts, but it also seeks to change longtime acquisition habits that have been detrimental to industry—and, by connection, to the goal of speeding innovative capabilities to the warfighter.

May 1, 2014
By George I. Seffers
Researchers working on the RoboEarth project demonstrate a robot’s ability to learn and cooperate with other robotic systems to serve medical patients. The project uses cloud computing to teach robots to perform tasks that seem intuitive for humans but are a challenge for robots.

Researchers working on multiple projects in Europe and the United States are using cloud computing to teach robotic systems to perform a multitude of tasks ranging from household chores to serving hospital patients and flipping pancakes. The research, which one day could be applied to robotic systems used for national defense, homeland security or medical uses, lowers costs while allowing robots to learn more quickly, share information and better cooperate with one another.