Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
08 Aug 18. ScanEagle set for export sales. Insitu’s ScanEagle UAV is set for further export success as the US Navy intends to award a sole source contract for up to five of the systems. In a FMS notice published on 7 October the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) stated it intended to negotiate and award at sole source firm-fixed-price contract to the company. When contacted NAVAIR was unable to comment on the nation which will receive the platforms. Other details remain scarce. Current export customers for the ScanEagle include the Philippine Air Force (PAF) which acquired six of the systems in 2017 under a $7.4m contract. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) has also acquired a number of the systems. The PAF formally received its first batch of six ScanEagle 2 tactical UAVs from the US government in March 2018. Earlier this year the company hosted a number of foreign delegations at the Centro de Experimentación de El Arenosillo near Mazagón, Spain where it showcased its unmanned portfolio including the ScanEagle, Integrator and the new ScanEagle 3. The ScanEagle 3, the latest addition to the Insitu portfolio, was unveiled at Exponential 2018 in Denver and is set to fill a gap in the market between the legacy ScanEagle and the larger Integrator platform. To-date no sales of the new platform have been announced. (Source: Shephard)
08 Aug 18. Airbus Defence and Space announced the successful landing of its first production aircraft of the Zephyr programme, the new Zephyr S HAPS (High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite). After taking off on 11th July in Arizona, USA, Zephyr S logged a maiden flight of over 25 days, the longest duration flight ever made. An application has been made to establish this as a new world record. This maiden flight of the solar powered Zephyr S proves the system capabilities and achieved all the flight’s engineering objectives. The previous longest flight duration record was also logged by a Zephyr prototype aircraft a few years ago, achieving then more than 14 days continuous flight, which already was ten times longer than any other aircraft in the world. This new record flight was supported by the UK government and reflects the UK Ministry of Defence’s position as the first customer for this innovative and potentially game changing capability. Zephyr is the world’s leading, solar–electric, stratospheric Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). It harnesses the sun’s rays, running exclusively on solar power, above the weather and conventional air traffic; filling a capability gap complimentary to satellites, UAVs and manned aircraft to provide persistent local satellite-like services.
“This very successful maiden flight represents a new significant milestone in the Zephyr programme, adding a new stratospheric flight endurance record which we hope will be formalised very shortly. We will in the coming days check all engineering data and outputs and start the preparation of additional flights planned for the second half of this year from our new operating site at the Wyndham airfield in Western Australia” said Jana Rosenmann, Head of Unmanned Aerial Systems at Airbus.
Zephyr will bring new see, sense and connect capabilities to both commercial and military customers. Zephyr will provide the potential to revolutionise disaster management, including monitoring the spread of wildfires or oil spills. It provides persistent surveillance, tracing the world’s changing environmental landscape and will be able to provide communications to the most unconnected parts of the world.
07 Aug 18. Ohio Federal Research Network Awards $6m for UAV Innovations. The Ohio Federal Research Network (OFRN) awarded $6.3m to four teams in support of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) research and development (R&D). Funding was awarded under OFRN’s Sustaining Ohio’s Aeronautical Readiness and Innovation in the Next Generation (SOARING) initiative, OFRN’s third round of R&D funding. The SOARING initiative is designed to expand Ohio’s leadership in defense and commercial aerospace research, development, and sustainment of unmanned air systems (UASs), personal air vehicles (PAVs), and logistics delivery air vehicles (LDVs). SOARING funding leverages Ohio’s unique aerospace assets to assist recipients in overcoming critical technical barriers and challenges. The four awarded projects are:
- Autonomous/ Remote Piloted “Air Uber” System, led by Persistent Surveillance Systems in Dayton, Ohio.
- Regional Unmanned Traffic Management System led by University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio.
- UAV Detect-and-Avoid Sensor Fusion, led by Ghostwave Inc. in Columbus, Ohio.
- Brushless Doubly-Fed Machine (BDFM) and Drive System led by The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
The four awarded projects which are comprised of collaborators from across the state of Ohio and beyond include the following universities and industries: Ohio University (Athens, Ohio); Sinclair College (Dayton, Ohio); University of Dayton Research Institute (Dayton, Ohio); Wright State University (Dayton, Ohio); Autonodyne (opening office in Ohio); Bosma Technical Services (Tipp City, Ohio); Demeter UAVs (Springfield, Ohio); Event 38 Unmanned Systems (Akron, OH); IS4S (opening office in Beavercreek, Ohio); Lockheed Martin Procerus Technologies (Vineyard, Utah); MacAir Aviation (Xenia, Ohio); MacNauchtan Development (Xenia, Ohio); SAFRAN (Twinsburg, Ohio); Simlat Inc. (Miamisburg, Ohio); and ZIN Technologies (Cleveland, Ohio). SOARING includes unique requirements designed to accelerate R&D into real-world applications. Projects must focus on priority research initiatives of the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), the Naval Medical Research Unit Dayton (NAMRU-D), the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), and the National Aeronautical and Space Administration’s Glenn Research Center (NASA-GRC). Each project includes at least two Ohio universities, one industry member, and engagement with an Ohio-based arm of a federal partner. Applicants must also propose a live flight demonstration for the technologies they develop. According to Ricky Peters, chair of the OFRN Executive Review Board, “[these awards] will drive innovation. Each requires an actual demonstration at the end of the project which is very exciting. I think our only concern is that we were only able to award funding to four of the five recommended projects. We are hopeful that we’ll be able to identify additional funds because all of the recommended proposals are of such caliber they deserve to move forward.”
Review of the 33 submitted proposals was performed by an independent Technical Review Council (TRC).
“OFRN’s Technical Review Council is really quite unique as it consists of engineers, academics, business executives and other key stakeholders from Ohio-based federal labs, the Ohio Third Frontier, and the National Academy of Sciences,” stated Viktoria Greanya, chair of the TRC and the principal and founder of Morpho Sciences, Inc. “OFRN’s process is rigorous. The criteria includes alignment with federal needs and Ohio capabilities, technical approach, and commercialization strategy. We look at the project team, budget, schedule, and of course, potential economic impact for the State.”
In just three years, OFRN has leveraged $32m in state funds to attract nearly $120m in new research awards, and $350m more in its funding pipeline. OFRN research projects include 11 universities and community colleges throughout the state and 56 industry partners. Executive Director Dennis Andersh noted, “Because of OFRN, we are now seeing groups of researchers from both the public and private sector working together with our federal partners to leverage Ohio’s research assets, in ways that had never occurred before.”
About OFRN. The Ohio Federal Research Network (OFRN) is a unique applied research collaborative created by the Ohio General Assembly in 2015. OFRN’s intent is to create external investment and business opportunities for Ohio. OFRN’s vision is to drive innovation among Ohio’s research universities, community colleges, and industry. OFRN focuses on priority research initiatives of Ohio-based federal partners, including the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), the Naval Medical Research Unit Dayton (NAMRU-D), the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), and the National Aeronautical and Space Administration’s Glenn Research Center (NASA-GRC). (Source: UAS VISION)
06 Aug 18. CASC highlights enhanced CH-804C hybrid UAV. The China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA), the flight technology development arm of the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), has developed an improved version of its Cai Hong 804C (Rainbow 804C, or CH-804C) hybrid fixed-wing/vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The updated air vehicle features a redesigned composite airframe with an increased wingspan of 4.25m, a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 30kg, and a payload capacity of 4kg. In contrast, the earlier model had a MTOW of 25kg with a 4m wingspan, and could only carry a 3kg payload. According to specifications viewed by Jane’s, the primary payload of the CH-804C comprises a belly-mounted 2.5kg optically stabilised electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) ball turret with a daylight channel providing wide and narrow fields-of-view (FoV) of 46°x34.5° and 4.6°x3.45°, respectively. It is stated to be capable of detecting a tank-sized object at a maximum range of 2km and identifying it at distances of up to 1.5km. The IR channel is equipped with a 640×512 pixel resolution and 13.9°x11.2° FoV focal plane array, and has a claimed detection and recognition range of 1.5km and 1km respectively. CAAA engineers have also boosted the CH-804C’s flight endurance to four hours, a 33% improvement over the earlier model. The air vehicle is equipped with an L-band datalink that enables it to transmit and receive data within a 100km line-of-sight distance, supporting a data transfer rate of up to 25.6kbps for telemetry and 4Mbps for imagery. The CH-804C also employs a dual global positioning system (GPS) receiver suite that offers redundancy in the event of signal loss in one of the GPS modules, and also enables GPS differential computation for improved positional and hover accuracy. This also reduces the reliance on its inertial navigation system (INS), which can be degraded by interference from power transmission lines as well as environments with strong electromagnetic fields during low-level flight. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
06 Aug 18. India Successfully Demonstrates 10Kg Helicopter UAV. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited successfully demonstrated flight of a 10Kg Rotary Wing (Helicopter) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (RUAV) here in the presence of its Board of Directors, recently. The RUAV is of a 2-stroke petrol engine, twin blade main rotor and tail rotor, payload capability of 2.5Kg including live stream video camera and range of the vehicle is 8-10Km with an endurance of one hour. The flight lasted for about ten minutes during which the Attitude Control Attitude Hold (ACAH) mode, Position Control, Position Hold mode (autonomous hover), low speed flight in forward, backward and sideward directions, were demonstrated. The video feed from onboard the helicopter was streamed live and shown on the dedicated video receiver. The status of the helicopter, its parameters and its real-time position on the map were also shown. To achieve self reliance in the aviation field and to enhance its R&D efforts, HAL is working closely with premier educational institutes and has established chairs at IITs (Madras, Roorkee, Kharagpur, Bombay, Kanpur) and IISc Bengaluru. The RUAV is developed in association with IIT Kanpur and is the first outcome of HAL’s tie-ups with academia. With this demo, HAL’s Rotary Wing R&D Centre (RWR&DC) is well poised to employ its skills and capabilities to undertake development of Rotary UAVs of higher weight classes and weapons as payloads. The success is the testimony of the Industry-academia collaboration, says Mr. T. Suvarna Raju, CMD-HAL. The RWR&DC at HAL is the unique R&D Centre in the country involved in Design and Development of Rotary Wing Platforms (Helicopters) Military and Civil operations. Advance Light Helicopter in its different variants (ALH-Dhruv, ALH-Rudra, ALH Wheeled version) is one of its star products and in service with the Indian Defence Forces. The Light Combat Helicopter is also designed and developed by this Centre and is under production for Indian Army and Indian Air Force. The RWR&DC having wide and varied experience, strong skill sets in development of Rotary Platforms has partnered with Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IITK) to embark upon design and development of a Rotary Unmanned Air Vehicle (RUAV) for Defence and Para-Military Forces and homeland security. These efforts led to successful development of control laws, a full authority flight controller, also known as Fly By Wire system for helicopters and other associated technologies like autonomous navigation system, ground control system etc. (Source: UAS VISION)
02 Aug 18. BAE Systems a pioneer of Autonomy Technologies for more than 20 years. Dating back to the last century, BAE Systems has been the autonomy systems provider of choice for nearly every significant U.S. Department of Defense program. Autonomy technologies have been dominating media headlines for the last few years, most notably with the recent advances in autonomous vehicles and drones. But what most people don’t realize is that autonomy technology is not new – it’s a technology that has been around for several decades. BAE Systems has created advanced autonomous systems for customers in the defense and intelligence communities for more than 20 years. We have also been the autonomy systems provider of choice for nearly every significant U.S. Department of Defense program dating back to the last century. In fact, we were the original developer of the autonomy software used in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) program dating back to 2002, and have continued to mature the technology in the intervening years. Since that time, we’ve been developing autonomy technologies for many other efforts, including manned-unmanned teaming that we’ve routinely and regularly demonstrated in flight tests such as our recent distributed battle management program. In addition, BAE Systems is cited in The Mitchell Institute’s policy paper “Manned-Unmanned Aircraft Teaming: Taking Combat Airpower to the Next Level,” which was presented on Capitol Hill earlier this month, and points to our long heritage supporting autonomy technologies for the U.S. government. An approach advocated by The Mitchell Institute in the paper is to unman fourth-generation aircraft, which would cost-effectively provide for an increased U.S. global presence without exacerbating the ongoing pilot shortage. This approach would also allow the warfighter to develop new tactics for unmanned wingmen without the expense of developing a new aircraft. We believe that using our advanced Mission Effectiveness Augmentation System® software is also a good approach that can enable manned-unmanned teaming to maximize the effectiveness and survivability of U.S. aircraft.
“Autonomy technologies support the warfighter in any mission – on the ground, or in the air, sea, or space – and span from the smallest sensor products to the largest enterprise services,” said Dr. Jerry M. Wohletz, vice president and general manager of FAST Labs at BAE Systems. “What all of these technologies have in common is the ability to help the warfighter team with machines to intelligently make better decisions faster, and we’re committed to continuing to develop these technologies to keep our warfighters safe.”
As an organization, we define autonomy as integrating control, estimation, and learning to create adaptive and intelligent solutions capable of real-time information processing and decision making. BAE Systems’ FAST Labs research and development team has and continues to pioneer technologies in three primary categories within autonomy: situational assessment and understanding, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and mission planning and decision making. (Source: ASD Network)
02 Aug 18. DARPA Gives Small Autonomous Systems a Tech Boost. DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program recently completed Phase 2 flight tests, demonstrating advanced algorithms designed to turn small air and ground systems into team members that could autonomously perform tasks dangerous for humans – such as pre-mission reconnaissance in a hostile urban setting or searching damaged structures for survivors following an earthquake. Building on Phase 1 flight tests in 2017, researchers refined their software and adapted commercial sensors to achieve greater performance with smaller, lighter quadcopters. Conducted in a mock town at the Guardian Centers training facility in Perry, Georgia, aerial tests showed significant progress in urban outdoor as well as indoor autonomous flight scenarios, including:
- Flying at increased speeds between multi-story buildings and through tight alleyways while identifying objects of interest;
- Flying through a narrow window into a building and down a hallway searching rooms and creating a 3-D map of the interior; and
- Identifying and flying down a flight of stairs and exiting the building through an open doorway.
Begun in 2015, the FLA applied research program has focused on developing advanced autonomy algorithms—the smart software needed to yield high performance from a lightweight quadcopter weighing about five pounds with limited battery power and computer processing capability onboard. FLA’s algorithms have been demonstrated so far on air vehicles only, but they could be used on small, lightweight ground vehicles as well.
“The outstanding university and industry research teams working on FLA honed algorithms that in the not too distant future could transform lightweight, commercial-off-the-shelf air or ground unmanned vehicles into capable operational systems requiring no human input once you’ve provided a general heading, distance to travel, and specific items to search,” said J.C. Ledé, DARPA program manager. “Unmanned systems equipped with FLA algorithms need no remote pilot, no GPS guidance, no communications link, and no pre-programmed map of the area – the onboard software, lightweight processor, and low-cost sensors do all the work autonomously in real-time.”
FLA’s algorithms could lead to effective human-machine teams on the battlefield, where a small air or ground vehicle might serve as a scout autonomously searching unknown environments and bringing back useful reconnaissance information to a human team member. Without needing communications links to the launch vehicle, the chances of an adversary detecting troop presence based on radio transmissions is reduced, which adds further security and safety, Ledé said. This could be particularly important in a search-and-rescue scenario, where an FLA-equipped platform could search in radio silence behind enemy lines for a downed pilot or crew member. During Phase 2, a team of engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Draper Laboratory reduced the number of onboard sensors to lighten their air vehicle for higher speed.
“This is the lightweight autonomy program, so we’re trying to make the sensor payload as light as possible,” said Nick Roy, co-leader of the MIT/Draper team. “In Phase 1 we had a variety of different sensors on the platform to tell us about the environment. In Phase 2 we really doubled down trying to do as much as possible with a single camera.”
A key part of the team’s task was for the air vehicle to build not only a geographically accurate map as it traversed the cityscape but also a semantic one.
“As the vehicle uses its sensors to quickly explore and navigate obstacles in unknown environments, it is continually creating a map as it explores and remembers any place it has already been so it can return to the starting point by itself,” said Jon How, the other MIT/Draper team co-leader.
Using neural nets, the onboard computer recognizes roads, buildings, cars, and other objects and identifies them as such on the map, providing clickable images as well. The human team member could download the map and images from the onboard processor after the mission is completed. Additionally, the MIT/Draper team incorporated the ability to sync data collected by the air vehicle with a handheld app called the Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK), which is already deployed to military forces. Using an optional Wi-Fi link from the aircraft (that the human team member could turn on or off as desired), the air vehicle can send real-time imagery of objects of interest. During the flight tests, researchers successfully demonstrated autonomous identification of cars positioned in various locations around the mock town. With “exploration mode” mode on, the air vehicle identified the cars and provided their location with clickable high-resolution images in real-time via Wi-Fi, appearing as an overlay on the ATAK geospatial digital map on the handheld device. A separate team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania reduced their air vehicle’s size and weight to be able to fly autonomously in small, cluttered indoor spaces. UPenn’s air vehicle took off outside, identified and flew through a second-story window opening with just inches of width clearance, flew down a hallway looking for open rooms to search, found a stairwell, and descended to the ground floor before exiting back outside through an open doorway. The platform’s reduced weight and size brought new challenges, since the sensors and computers used in Phase 1 were too heavy for the smaller vehicle.
“We ended up developing a new integrated single-board computer that houses all of our sensors as well as our computational platform,” said Camillo J. Taylor, the UPenn team lead. “In Phase 2 we flew a vehicle that’s about half the size of the previous one, and we reduced the weight by more than half. We were able to use a commercially available processor that requires very little power for the entirety of our computational load.”
A key feature of the UPenn vehicle is its ability to create a detailed 3-D map of unknown indoor spaces, avoid obstacles and ability to fly down stairwells.
“That’s very important in indoor environments,” Taylor said. “Because you need to actually not just reason about a slice of the world, you need to reason about what’s above you, what’s below you. You might need to fly around a table or a chair, so we’re forced to build a complete three-dimensional representation.”
The next step, according to Taylor, is packing even more computation onto smaller platforms, potentially making a smart UAV for troops or first responders that is small enough to fit in the palm of the hand. Algorithms developed in the FLA program have been scheduled to transition to the Army Research Laboratory for further development for potential military applications. (Source: UAS VISION)
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