Manassas-based Aurora Flight Sciences held a successful demonstration of their autonomous helicopter system at the Marine Corps Base at Quantico.
According to a release, the system was developed under the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS) program.
Aurora Flight Sciences’ Chief Operating Officer Matt Hutchison said that they’ve been working on the technology for several years.
“It’s a helicopter that’s been equipped with the system that can automatically survey an area that it’s never been to before, self-select a landing site, and then be able to land,” said Hutchison.
This project is one of many that the company has developed under the AACUS program. Others include “the digital flight control system which enables the UH-1 to fly autonomously; and the Tactical Autonomous aerial LOgistics System (TALOS) autonomy technology. The AEH-1 was granted a Special Airworthiness Certificate by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in October, allowing the aircraft to operate autonomous with only a safety pilot onboard to monitor the controls,” stated a release.
More on the AACUS program, from a release:
AACUS is an aircraft-agnostic hardware and software suite which enables a Marine on the ground to request a supply delivery via helicopter from a handheld tablet, requiring no advanced training to operate the system. AEH-1 is fitted with onboard lidar and camera sensors that enable it to detect and avoid obstacles and evaluate the landing zone. The system processes this information to perform onboard mission, route, and path planning to enable autonomous mission execution.
While previous demonstrations have showcased the system’s autonomy capabilities and interactions with trained operators, this is the first demonstration in which the aircraft performed cargo and utility missions in an operationally-relevant training environment with Marine interaction. As part of the demonstration, Marines loaded supplies for the aircraft before clearing the autonomy system for autonomous takeoff.
“The Marines’ vision for the future of vertical lift operation and support is optionally-piloted aircraft. Aurora’s system enables any rotary-wing aircraft to detect and react to hazards in the flight path, and make appropriate adjustments to keep the aircraft safe,” stated AACUS Program Manager Stephen Chisarik in a release.
Now that the technology has been tested and demonstrated to ONR, and Aurora has completed its final phase of the program, AACUS will now transition the technology to the Marine Corps for experimentation and possible acquisition.
We were able to join the group out in the field at Quantico to see the technology in action. Check it out: