Large scale VTOL aircraft have very different capabilities than large drones: they can carry up to 6,000 pounds of cargo. On the military field, that cargo may include Warfighters and military supplies: in the commercial arena, that could mean urban air mobility (UAM) or heavy cargo delivery. Automated aerial vehicles (AAV) don’t generally have that size or heft: but autonomous systems can perform missions on demand and without putting human pilots in harm’s way. A new vehicle may be on the horizon: helicopter drones combine the advantages of autonomy with the uses of a large scale VTOL.
With support from Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), Near Earth Autonomy has partnered with Kaman Aerospace to develop an intelligent autonomy system for the K-MAX helicopter, a large-scale transport aircraft. Near Earth’s technology allows aircraft like helicopter drones to autonomously take-off, fly, and land safely, with or without GPS. Using sensors and computing onboard, the aircraft can sense its environment to make real-time flight decisions such as deciding to fly around objects in the flight path and selecting clear places to land or to drop off cargo,” says a Near Earth Autonomy press release.
Sanjiv Singh, CEO of Near Earth, comments, “Our past efforts laid a strong foundation for solving complex autonomy challenges for small, medium, and large vehicles. Thanks to our dedicated team, partners, and sponsors, we are moving from the art of the possible to the art of the practical and in specific, to making autonomous flight safe, efficient, and robust enough for daily operation. This program will serve as an important milestone in making autonomous logistics a reality.”