Also demonstrated was obstacle avoidance and landing-zone selection using a three-dimensional laser radar. The K-Max used a Fairchild Controls Hellas lidar to autonomously check the landing zone slope, detect obstacles and select a safe area to drop the cargo.
The ATUAS demonstration is focused on long-line delivery of external loads—both single and multiple drops per flight—the method used by the K-Max to deliver cargo in Afghanistan. “We did both static and dynamic obstacle-detection,” says McMillen. “There was an SUV in the middle of the drop zone. The system tracked the vehicle, selected a safe area nearby and delivered the load.”
A final demonstration is planned for November. This operational utility assessment will include multi-vehicle control from the K-Max ground station, representing a team of cargo UAS. The demo will also include autonomous retrograde capability—bringing cargo back. This has been accomplished manually in Afghanistan with Marine Corps personnel making “hot hook-ups” to the hovering helicopter.
In the November demo, McMillen says, the unmanned helicopter will fly in, identify the load, autonomously attach its hook and fly away. “We are looking at a device on the load to identify it, and a couple of different hook technologies,” he says. This is an extension of the beacon, which allows the long-line load to be placed precisely, says McMillen, adding that automated damping of the long line on the unmanned K-Max already provides cargo-hook stability that is better than for the piloted aircraft.