One soldier able to command vehicles from terminal

A system enabling a soldier to control multiple dissimilar unmanned air vehicles and receive real-time surveillance data on demand, using a handheld computer, has been demonstrated by a team led by Northrop Grumman. The 22 September demonstration involved four small UAVs providing surveillance of the simulated urban environment of abandoned base housing at the former George AFB in Victorville, California.

The demonstration was conducted under the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s two-year Heterogenous Urban RSTA (reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition) Team (HURT) programme, which began in January. Via the Humvee-mounted HURT system, the soldier was able to view broad-area surveillance images from the low-flying UAVs on his handheld and request imagery using simple cursor commands.

The HURT system autonomously determined which UAV was most capable of providing the requested imagery based on each vehicle’s position and current tasking. Commands were then sent to the individual vehicles’ ground control stations. Imagery from the UAVs was fused by the HURT system then sent to the handheld computer. The soldier was able to request imagery of a building, surveillance of a moving truck, or a replay from several minutes earlier.

Four small UAVs of three different types, a mix of fixed- and rotary-wing, were deployed under the control of the HURT system, which demonstrated that it could prioritise requested tasks to ensure the UAVs continued to provide wide-area surveillance of the demonstration zone while responding to specific requests from the soldier, including sending an individual vehicle for a close-up look, says Northrop.

“HURT communicates only with the ground control system for each UAV. We do not change the UAV,” says Charlie Guthrie, director advanced capability development. “The operator launches the vehicle and sends it to a marshalling point where it is available for use. HURT looks at the systems assigned to it and programs them to give the best data it can, setting up reconnaissance patterns and scan areas.” The soldier can then make simple, high-level requests like “follow that car”, he says.

The exercise at George AFB was the first all-up system demonstration in a relevant environment, says Guthrie. Later demonstrations will involve a larger variety of UAV types as well as ground sensors, add Red Force and Blue Force tracking and evaluate different levels of autonomy in different scenarios.

Source: Flight International