Navy helicopter demonstrates autonomous capabilities with use of tablet

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) completed the final helicopter flight demonstration with autonomous capability for the Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) program at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.

ONR and Aurora Flight Sciences partnered on this AACUS program to enable the Marine Corps to rapidly resupply forces on the front lines. The systems consists of a sensor and software package that can be integrated into any manned or unmanned rotary-wing aircraft to detect and avoid obstacles in unfavorable weather conditions, or to facilitate autonomous, unmanned flight.

Dr. Walter Jones, ONR executive director, explains that “AACUS is an autonomy kit that can be placed on any rotary-wing platform and provide it with an autonomous capability. Imagine a Marine Corps unit deployed in a remote location, in rough terrain, needing ammunition, water, batteries, or even blood."

Engineers designed AACUS for simple use where an operator with minimal training can call for supplies and order the flights using only an intuitive handheld tablet.

During the demonstration, a Marine with no prior experience with the technology was given a handheld device and 15 minutes of training. The Marine was able to program in the supplies needed and the destination, and the helicopters arrived autonomously selecting an alternative landing site based on last-second no-fly-zone information added in from the Marine. The demonstration featured a UH-1 “Huey” flying autonomously on multiple missions.

Officials say AACUS represents a leap-ahead technology for the Marine Corps and Navy, moving unmanned flights far beyond the current standard, which requires a specialized operator to select a landing site and manually control an unmanned aircraft via remote.

“AACUS gives revolutionary capability to our fleet and force,” says Dennis Baker, AACUS program manager. “It can be used as a pilot aid to operate in GPS- and communications-denied arenas, or allow fully autonomous flights in contested environments—keeping our pilots and crews out of harm’s way.”

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