It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… a Porsche Cayenne?
Georgia Tech Research Institute took an interesting approach to the future of autonomous aircrafts at the recent Robotics Rodeo 2010 in Fort Benning, Ga., in which it demonstrated its Collaborative Unmanned Systems Technology Demonstrator (CUSTD) – two small-scale yellow unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and a heavily customized and very robotic Porsche Cayenne.
At a size no larger than a coffee table, all of the vehicles are designed to operate in tandem using onboard computers that administer collaborative-vehicle software. The UAVs, which have 2.7-meter wingspans, 3 kilograms of scientific instrumentation and global position systems for navigation, require humans to help them launch into the air at first, but function on their own afterward. According to Charles Pippin, a GTRI research scientist in charge of the CUSTD effort and member of the institute’s Unmanned and Autonomous Systems team, the aircrafts – which are quarter-scale Piper Cubs – rely on onboard computer vision software that reads images taken by the aircrafts’ digital cameras.
As for the Porsche, called “Sting,” it has been upgraded with a 900 MHz radio that can communicate with similar radios in the aircraft, since it first debuted at the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. During a March demonstration, the Sting was able to detect a cloud of ammonia by using a built-in chemical sensor.
Developers envision the aircrafts to be able to apply its specialized functions to a typical mission, such as its search for an existing target over a wide area. As demonstrated by the GTRI through footage of the UAVs and Sting in action, when one UAV spots a target, it would then be able to identify its location using GPS coordinates to Sting, which would then find its way to the target. The UAV over the target would also call in the second UAV to fly to the target and analyze the situation using its sensors.
GTRI engineers are currently in the process of creating an auctioning system that would have different unmanned vehicles delving out requests for assistance and choosing help from the vehicle, or several vehicles, that are nearby and are able to most efficiently complete the task. According to Pippin, since it’s not realistic for every military unit or police department to have their own autonomous vehicle, it would make most sense for the units to share. He hopes ground vehicles will be added to this plan in spring 2011.
The Army uses the Robotics Rodeo to see whether new technologies demonstrated by research teams could benefit its current robotics programs. Teams reveal their developments to the Army Research Laboratory and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command as well as other government entities and contractors.
Tammy Wolf is a TMCnet copy editor. Previously she was assistant to the editor at The Darien Times, a weekly newspaper in Darien, Conn., where she edited submissions, did page layout and design and helped manage the newspaper's website. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Tammy Wolf