Advanced Tactics Unveils Fly/Drive Drone

After flying its Black Knight Transformer prototype multicopter fly/drive vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicle in 2014, Advanced Tactics Inc. (AT) has begun production of a small unmanned air/ground vehicle version for sale as a ground-mobile surveillance and package delivery robot.

Where the Black Knight is a full-size “flying jeep” conceived for military use, the commercially available Autonomous Panther AT weighs less than the FAA’s 55-lb. limit on small UAS and carries a 15-lb. payload, says AT. The vehicle has been flight-tested. 

The battery-powered vehicle has six propellers on arms extending from the boxlike body and electrically driven wheels that provide an off-road capability. Driving mode not only extends its operating time, says AT, but allows the vehicle the ability to explore an area more quietly than a UAS.

The Panther is “suited especially for missions in difficult-to-reach areas, yet needing quiet or extended observation,” says the Torrance, California-based company. Robotic arms for package delivery have also been tested.

Aurora Modifies UH-1 to Demo Unmanned Resupply

Aurora Flight Sciences is converting a Bell UH-1H Huey helicopter to unmanned operation for the final phase of a program to demonstrate autonomous obstacle avoidance and landing capability for rapid cargo resupply.

The helicopter is being fitted with Aurora’s TALOS (Tactical Autonomous Aerial Logistics System) and will be used for the culminating demonstration in 2017-18 under the third and final phase of the Office of Naval Research’s Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS) program.

TALOS, which includes a scanning lidar sensor for obstacle detection and landing-zone selection, has been flown previously on Boeing’s H-6U Unmanned Little Bird and three different manned Bell 206s under Phases 1 and 2 of AACUS.

“The arrival of a Huey as our third test platform frames a key point for future customers—the TALOS system is platform agnostic; you’re not buying a new fleet of helicopters, you’re buying a capability set for your current fleet,” says John Wissler, vice president of Aurora’s R&D Center.

“TALOS is not an aircraft, nor is it a robot flying an aircraft—[it] is transferable intelligence designed with both manned and unmanned aircraft requirements in mind,” he says, adding that its key features are “platform-agnostic, scalable autonomy, onboard sensing of the environment and onboard intelligence.”

AACUS is aimed at developing an autonomy system that can be installed in any vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft to provide an unmanned or optionally piloted capability to deliver cargo.

Using a tablet, a person on the ground can request a delivery and suggest a landing site. The system plans a route to their location and the lidar checks for obstacles and evaluates potential landing sites en route. The system can replan the mission in flight to avoid obstacles or threats and, if the landing point requested by the user is unsuitable, will suggest an alternative.

“AACUS encompasses the development and implementation of VTOL-based obstacle detection and avoidance, and allows for autonomous landings at unprepared, off-field, noncooperative landing sites,” says Aurora. “AACUS also enables dynamic contingency planning to the point of landing, with goal-based supervisory control by any field personnel with no special training.”

Aurora is exploring commercial applications for the TALOS technology. “Think of the civilian first-responder pilot attempting to land in a remote, storm-ravaged area at night—TALOS senses and alerts to power lines and landing-zone obstacles well before the pilot and informs the pilot’s maneuvers,” says Wissler.

NASA UTM Manages Beyond-Line-of-Sight UAS

NASA has demonstrated airspace management for small unmanned aircraft systems flying beyond visual line of sight of their operators in the latest test of its UAS Traffic Management (UTM) concept.

The test of UTM technical capability level 2 (TCL2) took place in Reno, Nevada, in October and involved 11 different fixed- and rotary-wing small UAS flying in four different mission scenarios.

Each scenario involved five different aircraft flying simultaneously. At any moment, three were within visual line of sight and two were operating out of sight of the respective pilots in command.

Vehicles submitted their intended operation to the UTM research platform, which checked for airspace conflicts and kept the operators aware of the locations of all the UAS flying via the UTM client within their ground station.

UAS reported their positions after takeoff through the UTM client. The research platform then tracked the aircraft and notified the operators if an aircraft deviated from its operation plan. If the deviation was significant enough, the system could declare a “rogue” aircraft and alert all operators.

Within each scenario, each aircraft was trying to perform a different mission within the same airspace. The agriculture scenario, for example, encompassed inspection of crops, livestock, a railroad and a windmill, as well as monitoring traffic. The ocean scenario involved oil rig and wildlife inspection, aerial yacht photography and coast guard and fish and game warden activity.

Two of the scenarios included dynamic changes to the operation triggered by events that forced UAS operators to fly in a different part of the airspace than originally planned, NASA says.

In one scenario, the report of a lost hiker caused a UAS being used for traffic watch to be redeployed to search for the missing person and another being used to provide news coverage of a sporting event to be dispatched to cover the missing-hiker breaking story.

Because the news operation was in conflict with the search operation, NASA says, the UTM research platform gave the searching UAS priority access to the airspace.

In another scenario, a simulated earthquake resulted in all five of the UAS involved being retasked to emergency-response operations, shifting from traffic watch to bridge inspection, for example, and from wildfire prevention to gas-line inspection.

UTM allowed the operators to change their plans while still airborne, the research platform verifying the new plans were free of any conflicts for airspace access.

C-Astral Flies Longer on Alta Solar Cells

Small unmanned-aircraft manufacturer C-Astral and photovoltaics specialist Alta Devices have teamed to use solar power to significantly extend the endurance of next-generation UAS.

The Long Range Solar (LRS) version of C-Astral’s Bramor small UAS can fly for at least 2 hr. longer with the addition of Alta’s flexible solar-cell technology, the company says. Potential applications benefiting from the extended endurance include road and railway surveying and powerline and pipeline inspection.

The Bramor ppX has a Kevlar, carbon and Vectran composite airframe for increased survivability. The Alta-enhanced LRS version adds less than 2 oz. of weight, says C-Astral, while increasing flight time to about 5.5 hr. The flying-wing UAS has a ceiling of 14,000 ft. and can operate in winds up to 25 kt.

Drone Radar Wins Sense-and-Avoid Contest

A drone sense-and-avoid competition held during the UTM Convention 2016 in Syracuse, New York, on Nov. 8-10 was won by Aerotenna with a collision-avoidance system using its µSharp radar and sensor-on-chip (SoC) flight controller.

The competition involved the multicopter drone autonomously navigating an indoor obstacle course replicating real-world scenarios and including a scaled-down bridge and power lines, along with glass and moving obstacles. Aerotenna completed two collision-free rounds to win the $12,000 first prize.

Aerotenna’s sense-and-avoid radar scans electronically through 360 deg., with a range up to 200 m (660 ft.) based on flight speed. Range resolution is up to 5 cm (2 in.) and update rate up to 90 Hz. The radar weighs less than 180 grams (6.3 oz.) and uses less than 3 watts of electrical power.