A New Robotic System Turns Regular Navy Helicopters Into Unmanned Drones

The Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System, or AACUS for short, is a set of sensors and software developed by Near Earth Autonomy for remotely piloting military helicopters.

The system essentially turns a pre-existing conventional helicopter into an unmanned drone capable of being piloted and maneuvered via tablet. The value here is in safely dispatching supplies to troops in need and in evacuating wounded soldiers without risking the life of a pilot.

AACUS is dependent on a scanning laser rangefinder to detect obstacles and gauge distances. Its Lidar (remote sensing technology) unit scans forward in order to avoid obstacles while in flight, and it can angle directly downward to search for a safe landing area.

The animation below shows actual data received by the AACUS sensors. The terrain is algorithmically sectioned off into areas that get a “grade” for landing quality. Red squares are “aborts” to be avoided. The green spots are identified as safe landing spots.

After a brief training session with the tablet software, Marines without flight experience can become functional drone pilots. Here’s a full demo video:

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