An unmanned rotorcraft that can follow a moving ground vehicle using a vision system is to be tested within six months by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR).

The autonomous helicopter is designed to hold a position relative to the moving ground target by means of a stereoscopic camera. Mathematical analysis of the camera's image provides data on distance and relative position to the target. This technology would be useful for search and rescue missions where a large area needs to be surveyed, which unmanned air vehicles could observe and report. The UAV could then follow the redirected rescue vehicle.

"We are interested in how a manned team can work with a UAV and what additional systems are needed," says Dr Frank Thielecke, the project's leader and head of the DLR's mathematical modelling department.

The helicopter undergoing the tests in Braunschweig is a modified hobbyists' acrobatic helicopter with a 1.9m (6.2ft) -rotor span, a maximum speed of 65kt (120km/h) and payload capacity of 6.5kg (14lb). The aircraft has been modified to carry a camera and autonomous control system.

The next step will be to transfer the autonomous vision navigation system to the DLR's Eurocopter EC135 test-flight helicopter.

The latest developments in the research were presented last week at the 6th French Aeronautics and Space Research Center (ONERA) and DLR aerospace symposium, held in Berlin. ONERA is undertaking complementary work, including studying decision-making processes for an autonomous UAV.

Source: Flight International