UH-1H “Huey” Next Test Bed for Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System

Autonomous helicopter designed for first-response and logistics applications.

There are many applications of vehicle autonomy in aircraft, from delivery and logistics to military drones.

Aurora Flight Sciences have taken their technology beyond unmanned drones to full size helicopters with systems that can both takeoff and land autonomously, or aid a human pilot with advanced imaging.

Aurora has been developing the Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS) to assist soldiers in the field with requesting resupply with minimal human action and the new Tactical Autonomous Aerial Logistics System (TALOS) will bring the technology to a new level – with support from the Office of Naval Research.

“We know how to make things fly, we’ve been doing it for over 100 years,” said Retired Brig. Gen. Frank Kelley, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Unmanned Systems.

“What we don’t yet know how to do, is how to couple aircraft and autonomous systems together, but great programs like this are helping us get there.”

The key to success for AACUS is its vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) based obstacle detection and avoidance, allowing for autonomous landings at unprepared, off-field and non-cooperative landing sites. AACUS also enables dynamic contingency planning to the point of landing, allowing landing instructions to be altered manually by field personnel on the scene.

Aurora’s UH-1H Huey helicopter. (Image courtesy of Aurora Flight Sciences.)

Aurora’s UH-1H Huey helicopter. (Image courtesy of Aurora Flight Sciences.)

Aurora’s TALOS system has been demonstrated previously on an unmanned Boeing H-6U Little Bird flown autonomously and three different human-piloted Bell 206 helicopter.

“The arrival of a Huey as our third test platform frames a key point for future customers – the TALOS system is platform agnostic; you’re not buying a new fleet of helicopters, you’re buying a capability set for your current fleet,” said John Wissler, VP of Aurora’s R&D Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“TALOS is not an aircraft, nor is it a robot flying an aircraft – TALOS is a transferable intelligence designed with both manned and unmanned aircraft requirements in mind. The value of TALOS can be described in a few words – platform agnostic, scalable autonomy, onboard sensing of the environment and on-board intelligence…”

The flexibility of the system is a strong selling point, beyond its obvious military applications.

Commercial logistics could benefit from autonomous cargo delivery systems and advanced imaging and identification of obstacles would be a benefit to any pilot navigating poor weather conditions.

Aurora has identified civilian first responders as potential users of the technology as well, able to clearly see their landing zone in the event of a natural disaster or inclement weather.

The ability to use the technology independent of the platform it’s installed on could result in wide use, if it is ever made commercially available.

For more information on the AACUS or TALOS programs or to see the other developments from Aurora Flight Sciences, visit the company website.

For more autonomous aviation news, find out if DARPA’s robotic arm will be your co-pilot.