The US Marine Corps (USMC) and Office of Naval Research (ONR) capped off its Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) programme demonstration on 13 December by autonomously operating a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter in a series of mission scenarios at USMC base in Quantico, Virginia.
Outfitted with the AACUS technology, the UH-1 executed take-offs, landings, resupply, and flight operations, at times bucking frigid wind gusts and negotiating tree lines, building mockups, and other obstacles.
ONR and USMC officials used the demonstration to differentiate the AACUS technology from unmanned rotary systems, like K-MAX.
“This is more than just an unmanned helicopter,” Walter Jones, ONR executive director, said. “AACUS is an autonomy kit that can be placed on any rotary-wing platform and provide it with an autonomous capability.”
Lieutenant General Robert Walsh, the USMC commanding general of the Marine Corps Development Command and deputy commandant of Combat Development and Integration, said, “Some look at this like it’s K-MAX. It’s completely different. This has to do with autonomy.”
For platforms like K-MAX, USMC and programme officials said, people are still making most of the decisions for the unmanned vehicle. But with AACUS, it is the vehicle itself – using the sensors, computers, and algorithms aboard – that actually makes determinations and decisions such as the best flight path, ideal landing area, or which obstacles need to be accounted for and avoided.
“With AACUS, an unmanned helicopter takes the supplies from the base, picks out the optimal route and best landing site closest to the warfighters, lands, and returns to base once the resupply is complete – all with the single touch of a handheld tablet,” ONR’s Jones said.
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