Software that allows robotic ground vehicles to navigate has been adapted to enable unmanned helicopters to avoid obstacles, select landing sites and land autonomously. The system developed by Piasecki Aircraft and Carnegie Mellon University was flight tested in June on Boeing's Unmanned Little Bird.Photo: Piasecki
The system is being developed to allow future unmanned helicopters to evacuate wounded soldiers and resupply forward bases by enabling the aircraft to avoid obstacles such as power lines and select a safe landing site in cluttered environments.
The Autonomous Collision Avoidance & Landing Zone Selection System uses an inertial sensor and laser scanner to build a 3-D map of the ground and find any obstacles. The navigation and planning software continously identifies potential landing sites and develops possible approach and abort paths.
The system is programmed to select a safe landing site closest to the location of a casualty or drop-off point for cargo. The software keeps a running rank of possible landing sites and approach/abort paths, enabling the aircraft to respond to unexpected developments, says Piasecki.
Equipped with the system, the Unmanned Little Bird testbed was able to map an unknown area where large and small obstructions limited possible landing sites. "The system was able to reliably identify level landing sites with clear approach paths that were accessible for evacuating a simulated casualty," Piasecki says.
The sensors demonstrated they could detect 4in-high pallets, chain link fences, high-tension wires, people and other objects. The helicopter was able to detect and maneuver around a manlift extended to 60ft while flying at more than 20kt, the company says.