A former aspiring maker of UAS has morphed into an automation software and technology company and is looking to partner with a large aerospace contractor to convert manned aircraft into optionally piloted vehicles (OPVs).
Proxy Technologies - formerly known as Proxy Aviation - will launch the Proteus automation software suite for airborne vehicles at AUVSI, as it continues to discuss fleet conversion programmes with major aerospace integrators.
The autonomous technology was first demonstrated in 2007, only two years after Proxy was incorporated, says chief executive and president Bob Davis, who joined Proxy in 2011. He adds that the automation software is now qualified to a technology readiness level of nine, leaving only one step remaining to complete development.
"The only thing we need now is the production run," Davis says.
Proxy's software incudes the Proteus software and a hardware system called the Proxy Autonomous Control Suite (PACS), which is installed in the aircraft. The PACS is loaded with the mission plan, and commands the aircraft's autopilot to navigate, while coordinating the mission with other PACS-equipped UAVs or OPVs, Davis says.
Davis cites the example of a four-aircraft mission that involves intelligence-gathering and hitting a target. The four aircraft work in groups of two. While two aircraft continue the airborne reconnaissance function, the other two are actively engaged with a target. One aircraft detects the target and sends the information to the other one, which receives the coordinates and launches a weapon.
The human controller is involved only if situation demands some change to the pre-loaded mission profile. "The person at the control station is more a manager by exception," Davis says. That approach allows a single person to control up to 32 vehicles, he adds.
Proxy's goal is to partner with a major prime to install the system on a fleet of OPVs.
"Our ideal customer would be a large business that's committed to the aviation market, understands that automation and OPVs are the way of the future and has the internal capital budget to partner with Proxy and launch an OPV with Proteus and PACS technologies," Davis says.
One potential partner has expressed interest, Davis says, because of a unique feature of the Proteus software.
"One of our integrators indicated a very strong interest in us having an autonomous taxiing capability," Davis says.
The Proteus software enables an OPV or UAV to leave the hangar, taxi, take-off, fly the mission, land and return to the hangar with no intervention by a human operator, Davis says.
The autonomous taxiing capability works as long as the other aircraft operating at the airport are equipped with the Proteus software as well. If they are not, the Proteus-equipped aircraft also must carry a sensor to sense and avoid the other aircraft, he says.
The new strategy marks a major shift for the eight-year-old company. Proxy originally was aimed at developing a competitor to the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Predator B. The company converted four aircraft, including two Velocity airframes, into OPVs.
Proxy is no longer focusing on being a UAS manufacturer, but is instead marketing the underlying software and PACS hardware that served as the enablers of the Velocity OPVs.
The company is involved in several programmes of record. It has partnered with an undisclosed major prime contractor on a project sponsored by a counter-narcotics project within the Department of Defense, Davis says. Proxy also is a contractor to the National Geo-spatial Intelligence Agency on a project called the "Geoint data services commercial airborne initiative" and with the US Army on a programme known as "technical information engineering services."