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By Yvonne Headington

11 Oct 12. Nature provides the inspiration for Cassidian’s Tethys research project which aims to achieve better power management for a range of robotic and automated systems. The programme is focused on developing a computer control system that replicates the ability of biological systems to regulate and optimise energy use. The idea is to imitate the endocrine system which, in mammals, helps to control the use of energy by adjusting the internal state of the body in reaction to environmental changes (as in the case of ‘fight or flight’ responses, for instance).

Work on the £600,000 Tethys project, funded through EADS Foundation Wales, is being undertaken by EADS Innovation Works in conjunction with Aberystwyth University.

As explained by Gary Clayton, Cassidian’s UK Research & Technology Lead, research on the technology behind Tethys began in early 2010. The company is now about half-way through a two-year live autonomous trials programme based on a 12-foot sailing yacht test-bed. The system is initially being mooted for unmanned air systems (UAS) but a floating test-bed was chosen for convenience. “You can play with that without needing the clearance to fly” said Mr Clayton. “For me it is a power-hungry multiple-system test-bed, exactly the same as an aerial vehicle would be,” he added.

“The idea of Tethys is to use power intelligently, not necessarily about creating more power” Mr Clayton explained. However, Tethys is not a binary system. “It’s not ‘full power, no power’; it’s how quickly does that have to have a reaction time.” Mr Clayton used the example of a mobile phone which is either ‘on’ or in sleep mode if not touched. “You can imagine how various parts of the system, based on what you are doing with that phone, could be managed differently” said Mr Clayton. For instance, the clocking rate of a system can be slowed down “so it just responds slower because what it is doing is not mission critical”.

There is also the question of how power management is dealt with in terms of the whole mission management system. Mr Clayton used the sailing test-bed to illustrate this point. When asked to sail from one point to another, the boat can use its tiller constantly in order to ensure that it maintains the correct course. Alternatively, the boat’s system can accommodate the fact that it can be slightly off course, just so long as it returns to the correct position at the time required by the mission.

These are just two “of the many examples of how you can tune how hard something works and how much it is working, based on what the task is at a point in time” said Mr Clayton.

Trials with the floating test-bed have achieved “tremendous savings in power” according to Mr Clayton. Test results have shown a reduction in power consumption of up to 30%, depending on circumstances, with no major impact on systems performance. “That’s really significant” Mr Clayton said. Power is an important issue, affecting system performance, endurance and payload capabilities. The company has in mind, for instance, the requirements of high altitude ‘pseudo satellites’.

The floating test-bed has featured on the BBC TV programme The Coast and has recently been used in the Arctic, running Tethys, in support of scientific investigations.

On current progress, the company estimates that Tethys is some five years or so away from being ready for production applications. The system would have to be an integral part of the design architecture of any system wishing to use Tethys power management and the company foresees particular possibilities for battery-reliant equipment. Mr Clayton concluded that Tethys “has a potential application anywhere power sources are limited”.

Yvonne Headington is a freelance writer on Defence and Security issues and edits the weekly newsletter ‘Defence News Analysis – A View from London’ (dranda@btinternet.com)

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