ONR awards autonomous unmanned aerial cargo prototype contracts
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has announced the awarding of two contracts for its Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS) programme. Two industry teams led by Lockheed Martin and Aurora Flight Sciences received the contracts to develop prototype concepts on 28 September.
The programme aims to develop robotic rotorcraft capable of supporting rapid autonomous aerial cargo delivery to the battlefield, and ONR is initially providing $28 million to the industry-led teams for prototype development.
The system would support US Navy and US Marine Corps units under hostile conditions and could be operated by any warfighter on the ground with a smartphone-like device. It would enable faster re-supply capabilities, as well as keeping more warfighters out of harm’s way by reducing the number of vehicle convoys on dangerous roads.
The two teams will commence work this fall to demonstrate their autonomous systems in early 2014. According to ONR, programme officials expect to see beyond line-of-sight operation as well as operations in a GPS-denied environment.
AACUS, an ONR Innovative Naval Prototype, will produce artificial intelligence and autonomous sensing and perception technologies, including threat- and obstacle-detection and avoidance systems and automatic landing capabilities. The system is designed to allow robotic helicopters to take off, fly and deliver supplies on their own without a human robotics expert physically controlling them.
Ultimately, these technologies could transition not just to unmanned vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, but also to manned rotorcraft that currently experience problems with landing in brown-out conditions.
The initiative is part of a five-year, $98 million effort to develop sensors and control technologies for robotic rotorcraft. ONR said naval forces will one day use a mobile application to summon the autonomous unmanned rotorcraft to deliver combat supplies.
Along with industry partners, ONR has teamed with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the US Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center to realise the project’s full potential.
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