Programme to demonstrate ability to command UCAR teams while keeping eyes on target

Voice commands by a US Army Boeing AH-64 Apache crew will direct teams of simulated unmanned combat armed rotorcraft (UCAR) in technology demonstrations set to begin later this year.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) -funded experiment intends to validate one of the core requirements of the army's future UCAR force.

Small formations of attack helicopters would serve as forward command posts, sometimes striking targets themselves, but on other occasions directing teams of UCARs into position.

Direct contacts between the manned platforms and unmanned vehicles would be spoken, says UCAR programme manager Donald Woodbury, who addressed a helicopter forum in Baltimore in early June. The UCARs can be programmed to interpret the existing vernacular of combat flying commands. UCAR teams would then decipher how to carry out the new mission and report back verbally as necessary to the gunship crew or other control station.

DARPA intends the programme to expand the envelope of autonomous operations for unmanned air vehicles. Driving their interest is a requirement to minimise the workload of the manned attack helicopter crew, who will be carrying out their own mission as well as directing the UCAR teams. Issuing spoken commands would allow them "to be looking outside the cockpit where the targets are", says Woodbury.

Voice command systems can be purchased off-the-shelf and adapted for the demonstration effort. Many commercial and military cockpits include elements of spoken controls, but the demonstration is believed to be the first attempt in the USA to install the system in the stressful and noisy environment of an attack helicopter.

The UCAR programme is nearing a major milestone in September when DARPA is set to choose one of two teams to move into the next phase of development, which calls for building two flying demonstrators.

Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are both leading teams in the ongoing phase 2 UCAR programme.



Source: Flight International