26 January 2014

Raytheon's SilentEyes: Slave microUAV Concept Still Reverberates

In an August 2004 story, Space Daily reported a successful test of the Raytheon SilentEyes microUAV. In the test conducted at Edwards AFB,  SilentEyes prototypes were "ejected from an MQ-9 Predator." The goal of the SilentEyes project was to enable a high-altitude UAV such as the Predator, to extend its reach by using a lower-cost UAV. The slave UAV could be used to provide high resolution images or other sensor data from lower altitudes. It flew autonomously, but relayed its data stream through the MQ-9 to MQ-9 ground control stations. 

SilentEyes was cancelled, but the project was one of several that has contemplated the use of multiple, networked small and lower-cost UAVs to coordinate data gathering for intelligence, mapping and other applications. Slave microUAVs could be launched individual or as a swarm from air or ground platforms. A goal of these projects has been to leverage R&D in networked robotics.

Raytheon SilentEyes via Space Daily (2004)

01 December 2013

Not so dull: Amazon's PrimeAIR UAVs [60 Minutes Video]

On Sixty Minutes (aired December 1, 2013), Jeff Bezos introduced Charlie Rose to Amazon PrimeAIR. Amazon's concept -- several years off, in part due to FAA regulation -- is to utilize low cost UAVs to deliver parcels. Morever, the idea is to move toward same-day delivery.

Why? Amazon's long term of profit is based on customer retention. Amazon wants to deliver faster, yes, but also move into new markets where delivery speed is important. As illustrated with Amazon's grocery delivery business, only recently expanded into Los Angeles, Amazon studies a problem until it thoroughly understands how to execute without losing money.

Why, again? As Bezos explained to Rose, "Companies have short lifespans. Amazon will be disrupted sooner or later. . . . I would love for it to be after I am dead."

Conclusion What Amazon can't host or stream, it may employ intelligent machines and the Internet of Things (IoT) to achieve market dominance. As with AWS, Amazon will exert a cascading effect on the rest of global commerce. UAV's, hopefully not dirty or dangerous in this case, will have an increasingly important role in future transportation systems. It will take Big Data capacity, a few firms are better positioned to use it than Amazon.

Still Image from the 60 Minutes Visit to Amazon's UAV Lab

18 October 2013

Landing Sites Chosen In Midair by Autonomous Copters [video]

Many remotely piloted vehicles in use today demonstrate relatively little intelligence of its own. For a conventional fixed-wing aircraft including most UAVs, remote piloting is comparatively straightforward in some respects. Its flight path may have a known point of origin and a predetermined landing strip. Any ambiguities that are encountered mid-air are handled by remote pilots who use their own reasoning abilities to direct the machine away from danger.

For instance, the confusion that might arise when landing a machine like a helicopter in the middle of an unknown street (a la "Blackhawk Down") or on the top of a hospital building are minimized because a fixed-wing aircraft can't do that.

A research team would like to change that scenario by creating smarter robocopters. In work sponsored by the Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center, a collaboration is underway between Carnegie Mellon University roboticists and aeronautics specialists at Piasecki Aircraft and Boeing. 

The investigators explain some of the challenges they faced in determining -- in real time -- which landing sites would be suitable.
To put this stream into a form the planning software can use, the system constantly updates two low-level interpretations. One is a high-resolution, two-dimensional mesh that encodes the shape of the terrain for landing; the other is a medium-resolution, three-dimensional representation of all the things the robot wants to avoid hitting during its descent. Off-the-shelf surveying software can create such maps, but it may take hours back in the lab to process the data. Our software creates and updates these maps essentially as fast as the data arrive.
Inference: Artificial intelligence will continue to co-evolve with autonomous flying machines.

Some of the technology is being pursued by Near Earth Autonomy, founded by one of the co-authors.

This story via IEEE Spectrum.