Autonomous Helicopter Could Transform Battlefield Logistics

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Boiling down the areas of efficiency that are vital to soldier success, it’s all about the ability to shoot, move, and communicate. From a logistical perspective, this means supplies, transport, and connectivity. And for these reasons, perhaps no vehicle has had a greater impact on the modern battlefield than the helicopter.

However, these aircraft’s ability to move troops, deliver supplies, and provide offensive firepower has led to their involvement in dangerous missions that make them, as well as their pilots and crew members, highly attractive targets.

These are some of the reasons that the Marine Corps is so enthusiastic about successful demonstrations of an autonomous guidance system for helicopters.  

Part of the Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) program, a partnership between the Office of Naval Research and technology company Aurora Flight Sciences, has resulted in the development of a sensor-software package that can be integrated into any manned or unmanned rotary-wing aircraft.

Not specific to any one chopper, the system offers heightened obstacle detection and avoidance capabilities in all weather conditions. This ability can be used to either assist manned aircraft or in taking autonomous flight to a new level.

Recent demonstrations involved a UH-1 Huey and a Marine who was given 15 minutes of training on how to use the system. Using a handheld tablet, the Marine was able to use the program to land a Huey full of supplies at the intended location. An essential part of the program is the system’s ability to assess and select a landing site in the face of changing intelligence about the enemy’s position. 

AACUS looks to leverage the tech-savvy nature of this generation’s soldiers and essentially equipping them with a video game controller that allows them to communicate what they need and where they are, call for the transport, and then control its movements to and from their location without putting a pilot in harm’s way. So regardless of terrain, enemy position, or the remoteness of their location, our soldiers can get the food, water, ammunition, medical evac, or other supplies they need.

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