The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) yesterday awarded Lockheed Martin $481,352 to complete a design study for an autonomous medical evacuation system.
A Google search turned up some interesting concepts that might hint at what Lock Mart may propose....
At an American Telemedicine Assocation conference in April 2008, Lockheed gave a paper discussing work it was doing for the US Army Medical Reseach and Materiel Command. In the paper, the writers describe using a Boeing Unmanned Little Bird (ULB) that would reduce risk to first responders by autonomously entering a hot zone for airborne casualty evacuation and resupply.
Features of the system include:
- Autonomous takeoff and flight to landing area
- Mapping of landing area
- Automated landing, shut-down and offload of supplies and stretcher (LSTAT)
- Autonomous takeoff with LSTAT
Of the major design components needed to realize such a system, a key driver is the sensors and software needed to map out an unprepared landing zone. Lockheed talks about using LADAR (Laser Radar) sensing for the job.
According to CMU, "in order for an autonomous medevac system to land near a casualty in uncontrolled circumstances, it must first be able to identify a suitable landing site. Our approach uses a laser rangefinding scanner coupled to an inertial navigation system. As the medevac helicopter flies over the scene near the casualty, it scans the terrain to build a three-dimensional map. Our analysis software then chooses among potential sites based on slope and smoothness, the surrounding obstacles, and the proximity to the casualty."
"For experimentation we mounted our sensor suite on a Eurocopter EC135 (provided by Stat MedEvac) twin-turbine helicopter norrmally used for ambulance missions. With the assistance of an expert Navy pilot, we scanned and evaluated many types of terrain for potential landing sites. The pilot provided expert feedback on the suitability of different landing zones. We scanned a total of 9 sites in 8 hours of flight time. For each site, we logged the laser survey, high-resolution video from the laser's point of view, and manual photographs/video from the cabin."
Below is a video of the EC135 during one of the test flights...