Fully autonomous helicopter

Written by: Tom Austin-Morgan | Published:

Aurora Flight Sciences has successfully carried out multiple test flights of an autonomous helicopter system developed under the US Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS) programme.

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. The AACUS-Enabled UH-1H (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 was 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 take-off.

“The Marines’ vision for the future of vertical lift operation and support is optionally-piloted aircraft,” said AACUS program manager Stephen Chisarik. “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.”

These flights served as the culmination of a highly successful five-year Innovative Naval Prototype programme. Having completed the third and final phase of the programme, AACUS will now transition to the Marine Corps for experimentation and potential acquisition.

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