Autonomous aircraft and autonomous ground vehicles can eliminate much of the danger for military personnel working in hazardous areas. But what if they could combine their capabilities to even further remove soldiers from harm's way? Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) together with Sikorsky Aircraft have deployed an autonomous helicopter and all-terrain robot to demonstrate what might be possible when advanced, unmanned vehicles join forces.

The simulated mission took place back on 27 October at Sikorsky's Development Flight Center, involving an autonomous ground vehicle developed at Carnegie called the Land Tamer and Sikorsky's UH-60 MU Black Hawk helicopter. The aircraft's "optional piloting" potential was first tested in a 2014 exercise aimed at furthering the US army's ambitions for autonomous cargo delivery.

In its latest exercise, which was actually announced almost 18 months ago, the Black Hawk carried the Land Tamer in its sling along a 12-mile (19 km) journey, before lowering it to the ground and then setting it free. The ground vehicle took off, autonomously navigating a 6-mile (10 km) route while using onboard chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear sensors to detect simulated chemical, biological, and radiological hazards.

This information was relayed back to the remote ground station, where the researchers were able to take over control of the Land Tamer in order to examine the sites more closely where needed.

The demonstration follows a similar exercise involving a K-MAX unmanned helicopter and Lockheed Martin's Squad Mission Support System unmanned ground vehicle at Fort Benning, Georgia in 2014. Like the latest operation, this one too sought to explore new ways to reduce the danger for military personnel by combining the capabilities of autonomous aircraft and ground vehicles. Both fall under a US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) initiative called "Extending the Reach of the Warfighter through Robotics."

"The teaming of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) 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," Dr. Paul Rogers, director of TARDEC said of the latest demonstration.

The video below shows the autonomous helicopter and ground vehicle in action.

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