Taking Off, Part II

When I heard the wind howling at 5am last Monday, I knew that nothing was going to be flying outside UTARI that day. Those are the breaks. When you plan an Unmanned Systems Consortium that is bringing in more than a hundred of the nation’s leading industry and academic professionals in the field, and you’ve just received an FAA Certificate of Authorization to fly unmanned aircraft on your campus, it’s only natural that Texas weather would have other ideas. Namely, 30-mile-per-hour winds.

Local Media Showcases Unmanned Vehicles

IGVC team leader, Rommel Alonzo speaks with local media at the Unmanned Systems Consortium.

So when the Consortium attendees moved outside, our demonstrations focused primarily on Marauder, a product of our student robotics competition team for the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC). Marauder maneuvered around a marked course and got quite a bit of publicity from local and national media.

For those who were looking for a larger – much larger – unmanned ground vehicle, the folks at Lockheed Martin brought out an impressive piece of machinery: the Squad Mission Support System (SMSS). The largest unmanned ground vehicle ever deployed with U.S. ground forces, the SMSS was parked right in the middle of our Autonomous Systems Lab for the event. With the ability to provide a range of logistical and transportation support for our troops, the SMSS is an extraordinary vehicle. It’ll be interesting to see how Lockheed Martin furthers its capabilities in the future – with the advances in technology and the SMSS’s imposing size, the possibilities for improving warfighter conditions is exciting.

Lockheed Martin's SMSS and the Maurader in the Autonomous Systems Laboratory

And while we weren’t able to fly outside, Dr. Frank Lewis and his students in our Autonomous Systems Lab were able to showcase the abilities of the Parrot Quadrotor, a UAS weighing in at only five or six pounds. With the capacity to track images and a variety of motion control mechanisms, the Quadrotor has a range of surveillance and tracking uses. With facial recognition, the prospects of finding lost children or disoriented elderly patients with dementia could increase considerably. And because its recognition ability also includes symbols, even tracking cars on an Amber Alert could be in the not-too-distant future.

Cleared for Takeoff

COA area overlooking the lake.

To me, the biggest take-away from the Unmanned Systems Consortium is the open-ended possibilities these technologies offer to assist humans in dirty, dangerous, difficult and dull tasks. Investment in the research and development of unmanned systems provides a wealth of opportunities to increase the efficacy of industries from national security to agriculture. I’m looking forward to seeing how our new FAA Test Site designation, and our Certificate of Authorization to fly on the UTARI campus, will impact technological developments in UAS. Now that we’re “cleared for takeoff,” it will be exciting to see what innovations take flight.

The Way Ahead

What type of systems – ground, water, or air – do you find most interesting? What industries do you believe will further the expansion of unmanned systems most? What unmanned systems research and development areas are you most interested in exploring?

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