The U.S. Navy is seeking industry-academia research teams to develop both sensors and control technologies for robotic vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.
The Navy’s Office of Naval Research plans to award two Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS) research contracts and expects joint industry-academia teams to compete for the contracts valued at $98 million. Among the systems to be developed are for threat and obstacle detection and avoidance, according to the Navy.
The AACUS is a “leap-ahead technology” enabling the Navy and Marine Corps to move beyond needing highly trained operators to fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), according to Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research. The goal of the research is to increase UAV “autonomy” while maintaining “the central and critical role of the human operator as the supervisor,” he said.
An earlier program produced a prototype semi-autonomous UAV—called K-MAX—designed for transporting supplies externally with the use of a sling and it was successfully deployed in Afghanistan during December 2011. However, the K-MAX requires a trained pilot to operate the UAV within line of sight. That would not be the case under the AACUS, according to the Navy.
Other differences include that the AACUS will transport cargo internally, and it is to be designed so people who have no flight experience can operate the aircraft, said Mary Cummings, program officer for AACUS. "An operator will pick up his iPad or Android and make an emergency supply request. He'll request that the helicopter come to him and land as close to him as possible."
In addition, the project requirements will include that the helicopter be able to take off by itself, plan its flight path and navigate by itself.
The deadline to file proposals for the AACUS project is in February, with the tentative date for contracts to be awarded is in April 2012.