Army, industry, academia partner to demonstrate new technologies

A U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center UH-60MU Black Hawk helicopter transports an autonomous Unmanned Ground Vehicle. (U.S. Army photo)

AMRDEC Public Affairs

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Nov. 9, 2015) — Carnegie Mellon University and Sikorsky Aircraft, using a U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center UH-60MU Black Hawk helicopter enabled with Sikorsky’s MATRIX™ Technology and CMU’s Land Tamer autonomous Unmanned Ground Vehicle, recently participated in a joint autonomy demonstration that proved the capability of new, ground-air cooperative missions.

Future technology may prevent warfighter exposure to hazardous conditions, such as chemical or radiological contaminated areas.

“The teaming of unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned ground vehicles like what was demonstrated here has enormous potential to bring the future ground commander an adaptable, modular, responsive and smart capability that can evolve as quickly as needed to meet a constantly changing threat,” said Dr. Paul Rogers, director, U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC.

“The cooperative effort between the Army labs, academia and industry to bring solutions to the warfighter is exciting to see,” Rogers said.

TARDEC researchers conducted the demonstration Oct. 27, through the Robotics Technology Consortium, which sponsored the Extending the Reach of the Warfighter through Robotics project.

One aspect of the test that had to be successful was the autonomous flight of the UH-60 aircraft.

AMRDEC has long been in development of technologies that enable autonomous flight for unmanned rotary wing aircraft and these technologies were included on the Black Hawk that was provided by AMRDEC for the test. Again, these autonomous technologies proved instrumental to a successful test.

“The UH-60MU aircraft is a prototype of the UH-60 in a ‘fly-by-wire’ configuration,” said Dr. William D. Lewis, AMRDEC director of Aviation Development. “’Fly-by-wire’ technology is the foundational enabler that facilitates autonomous aircraft operations.”

Additionally, this aircraft had been modified with the Sikorsky autonomy kit, MATRIX, to deliver the UAV capabilities the program required.

MATRIX Technology, launched in 2013, was designed to improve the capability, reliability and safety of flight for autonomous and optionally piloted vertical take-off and landing aircraft. In the demonstration, the Black Hawk helicopter was operated in coordination with an UGV, developed by Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center. The UGV Land Tamer all-terrain vehicle combined key elements of several NREC world-class autonomy systems to support autonomous missions in difficult environments.

“We were able to demonstrate a new technological capability that combines the strengths of air and ground vehicles,” said Jeremy Searock, NREC technical project manager. “The helicopter provides long-range capability and access to remote areas, while the ground vehicle has long endurance and high-precision sensing.”

During the demonstration mission, the unmanned Black Hawk helicopter picked up the UGV, flew a 12-mile route, delivered it to a ground location and released it. The drop-zone collaboration between the two autonomous systems demonstrated a uniquely differentiating capability. Over the course of more than 6 miles, the UGV autonomously navigated the environment, while using its onboard chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear sensors to detect simulated chemical, biological, and radiological hazards and delivered this information back to a remote ground station. The UGV was optionally teleoperated to explore hazard sites in greater detail, when necessary.

“We invested in Matrix Technology because we knew it would mean that, in certain scenarios, the warfighter can be kept out of harm’s way and would be able to perform more missions and perform them more effectively,” said Mark Miller, vice president of Research & Engineering at Sikorsky. “This demonstration indicated just that.”

The exercise, at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center, West Palm Beach, Florida, was the culmination of a 19-month project between Sikorsky and CMU’s NREC to demonstrate for the Army autonomous delivery of an UGV by an Optionally Piloted or Unmanned Black Hawk helicopter, followed by a long-range autonomous ground mission to collect vital, on- the-ground intelligence. The collaboration between the UAV and the UGV demonstrated the effectiveness of unmanned systems in addressing logistics needs in unknown or dangerous environments.

Carnegie Mellon is a private, internationally ranked research university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business, to public policy, the humanities and the arts. More than 13,000 students in the university’s seven schools and colleges benefit from a small student-to- faculty ratio and an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation.

Editor’s note: The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center and The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center are part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of theU.S. Army Materiel Command.

Originally published at on November 9, 2015.