Landing airplanes on moving ships is no mean feat, but this will be especially true when the airplanes are unmanned. Along with making decisions, autonomous airplanes will have to heed their human counterparts during aircraft carrier takeoff and landing — but can a robot read and understand arm-waving signals?
In a recent test of autonomous in-flight refueling, two unmanned aircraft flew within 40 feet of each other at an altitude of 45,000 feet, an aviation record. A Northrop Grumman Proteus test aircraft crept up on a NASA Global Hawk, testing wake turbulence and engine performance in the stratosphere. The test is a step toward teams of drones flying in formation, for refueling or other purposes.
An Army-funded research group at Carnegie Mellon University, working with engineers at Piasecki Aircraft Corporation, has made a huge leap forward -- or perhaps skyward -- for the future of autonomous flight. In mid-June, the team launched an unmanned helicopter and watched it land several minutes later, after negotiating an in-flight obstacle course. But unlike previous unmanned helo flights, this one required no human input whatsoever; for the first time ever, a full-sized helicopter made a fully autonomous flight.
Two rotors are better than one, and if our recent excitement over UPenn’s quadcopter is any indication, four rotors is better than two. Sometimes. Researchers at the ETH Zurich recognize that different tasks call for different aircraft, and with that in mind they’ve designed the Distributed Flight Array, a flying platform consisting of multiple small autonomous single rotor aircraft that can dock with one another to create a larger, more powerful aircraft.
Fully embracing the notion that there’s no point in building a UAV if it doesn’t make other UAVs look completely lame by comparison, UPenn’s GRASP Lab has developed an autonomous quadcopter that does a lot more than hover. It flips, dives, twists and otherwise dazzles, executing aggressive aerial maneuvers like dashing through tight windows with just three inches clearance and zipping in between other hovering quadcopters with graceful ease. All by itself.
Any pilot will tell you that flying is the easy part, it's landing that's hard. That adage is especially true for robotic planes like the Predator and Reaper drones. While the UAVs can follow a pre-programmed flight path, they still need a human to bring them safely down to the tarmac. And that means a lot of UAVs crashing due to human error.
There are three reasons why filmmakers distort science and technology: 1) to make things look cooler, 2) to make a story “work”, and 3) because they have no clue what they’re talking about, and they’ve chosen to ignore the advice (or pleas) of the film’s consultants. Although Stealth—a hypersonically paced Top Gun update about an unmanned air combat vehicle (UCAV) gone amok—gets correct some of the futuristic air-combat technology it depicts, much of it is dead wrong, and the film commits all three of the aforementioned sins.