Watch: Air And Ground Autonomous Vehicles Cooperate

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Autonomous ground vehicles and aircraft provide untold benefits to troops around the world. They can (and do) perform some of the more dangerous tasks, relieving military personnel of presence in hazardous areas. Until now, however, their functions have been fairly clearly demarcated. This often required intervention from flesh and blood soldiers to complete tasks, putting them in harm’s way.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Sikorsky Aircraft have sought to enable synergy between the machines inhabiting these two disparate mediums, and have deployed a symbiotic partnership – an all-terrain robot with an autonomous helicopter – to show how they can work together.

A Land Tamer, CMU’s autonomous ground vehicle, and Sikorsky’s UH-60 MU Black Hawk helicopter performed a simulated mission at the latter’s Development Flight Centre. The Black Hawk’s “optional piloting” mode has been in development for years, and was first tested back in 2014.

In this demonstration, the Black Hawk carried the Tamer for a full 19 km to the mission site, lowered it to ground, and set it free to perform its duties. The independent Land Tamer then navigated through a 10 km route, analysing its surrounding with onboard radiological, nuclear, biological, and chemical sensors, seeking out hazards that would be deadly to human explorers.

When needed, the team back at the remote ground station took over the Tamer to examine those areas that required closer inspection.

“The teaming of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned ground vehicles like what was demonstrated here has enormous potential to bring the future ground commander an adaptable, modular, responsive and smart capability that can evolve as quickly as needed to meet a constantly changing threat,” said Dr. Paul Rogers, director of the US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center.