U.S. Navy USV Successfully Launches Six Rafael Spike Missiles
By Stephanie Levy
31 October 2012

The U.S. Navy successfully launched six Rafael Spike missiles from a USV for the first time on Wednesday, 24 Oct. in Patuxent River, Md. They used the USV's precision engagement module, a remotely operated 11-meter long boat armed with missiles and a .50 caliber machine gun.

Ottawa Citizen

Anti-Pirate Robots to Board Hostile Ships
By Stephanie Levy
31 October 2012

Stingray, a three-pound robot being developed by MacroUSA for the U.S. Navy, could help keep soldiers safe during visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operations on suspected pirate vessels.

Popular Mechanics

Boeing's CHAMP Missile Knocks Out Electronic Devices
By Stephanie Levy
29 October 2012

Boeing's CHAMP missile knocked out a full building's electronics at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Champ, or Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project, is a cruise missile that replaces an explosive weapon with an electronic "death ray." It uses a precise beam of high-energy microwaves as it flies over one or several targets.


iRobot Lays Off Maritime Division Office
By Danielle Lucey
27 October 2012

Photo courtesy iRobot.

IRobot announced that the company will lay off its Durham, N.C., location, home of its maritime division.

CEO Colin Angle cited the unmanned maritime market’s sluggishness as the reason for the decision.

The company has been selling Seagliders, a platform initially developed by the University of Washington, since 2008. The product was commercialized through iRobot’s purchase of Nekton Research, a company with 24 people at the time of purchase. There are about 80 iRobot Seagliders deployed today, according to a recent presentation by the company at Oceans ’12 MTS/IEEE Hampton Roads. These existing customers will still be supported by iRobot’s headquarters staff in Massachusetts. The company’s other maritime platform, the Transphibian, was originally a project of Nekton Research, but is no longer featured on the company’s website as a product.

The decision is part of an overall restructuring that will see 80 layoffs, about 13 percent of the company’s workforce, according to an article on

IRobot’s overall revenue is up slightly this year compared to the first nine months of 2011, from $334.7 million last year versus $335.6 in the first three quarters of 2012.

“Our home robot unit has had an outstanding year, and we expect continued growth in that business,” said Angle after the company announced its third quarter results. “The 2012 outlook for D&S has deteriorated, and we expect further declines in 2013. To right-size the business we have restructured D&S and taken costs out.”

In March of this year, iRobot began restructuring, creating three divisions: defense, home and emerging markets. The move placed more emphasis on the company’s line of home robots, like the Roomba, and also paved the way for the company’s recent collaboration with InTouch
Health on the RP-VITA telepresence robot.

Weekend Roundup
26 October 2012

AUVSI photo.

  • Northrop Grumman has delivered a Global Hawk that is carrying the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node to the U.S. Air Force. (Nasdaq)
  • Brazil is using Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 to surveil the Bolivian border. The move comes at a time of security preparation for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. (Flightglobal
  • The CIA’s Director Gen. David Petraeus is asking the White House to expand its fleet of armed UAS. (The Washington Post)
  • China is getting into the driverless car game with a test drive from Beijing to nearby city Tianjin in 2013, according to the National Natural Science Foundation of China. (
  • The No. 13 Squadron of the Royal Air Force base in Waddington got its first Reaper delivery. The aircraft is one of five the squadron will have. (
  • Andrew Robathan, the British army armed forces minister, revealed there have been 11 Hermes 450 crashes in the last five years of operations. (Flightglobal)

General Atomics Successfully Tests ADS-B Surveillance on UAS
By Stephanie Levy
25 October 2012

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems announced the successful demonstration of an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast surveillance system on board its Guardian remotely piloted aircraft. The company said in a statement this demonstration validates the concept for enhanced RPA flight safety within domestic airspace by enhancing a pilot's situational awareness and also supports the company's overall airborne sense-and-avoid architecture for the Predator-B.

The purpose of the test was to demonstrate that the Predator/Gray Eagle series aircraft could fly cooperatively and safely in the national airspace. Air traffic control would be able to know their precise location and flight profiles.

"We are working closely with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], other government agencies and industry partners to advance the safety of RPS," said Frank W. Pace, president of the Aircraft Systems Group at General Atomics, in a press release. "We believe ADS-B will play a key role in a future sense-and-avoid system and will support the FAA's NextGen initiative."

The company says ADS-B will be used as a cornerstone of the FAA's NextGen air traffic management system. The goal of NextGen is to convert America's current air traffic control system to a satellite-based system. The FAA has mandated that all aircraft flying at altitudes greater than 10,000 feet, or around major U.S. airports, must be ADS-B equipped by 2020.

Lockheed Martin Integrating Sensors for Autonomous Convoys
By Stephanie Levy
25 October 2012

The U.S. military has selected Lockheed Martin to develop a kit that integrates sensors and control systems onto U.S. Army and Marine Corps tactical vehicles to allow for autonomous vehicle operation in convoys. The kit will also add a sensing and control function for rapid reaction to safety threats.


L3 to Develop High-Resolution Night-Vision Sensor Payload for Marine Corps Tactical UAVs
By Stephanie Levy
25 October 2012

L-3 Integrated Optical Systems and the U.S. Navy are working together to develop a prototype sensor that allows for tactical night-vision persistent surveillance on an AAI Corp. Shadow UAS. Officials of the Naval Research Laboratory at Stennis Space Center are awarding L-3 the $8.9 million contract to create a medium-wave infrared (MWIR) sensor for the Shadow to perform surveillance over a wide swath of the battlefield.

Military Aerospace

Euronaval Roundup: Maritime Security Goes to New Lengths, Heights
By Stephanie Levy
25 October 2012

Editor's note: The following is a news roundup of stories from outside sources on this month's Euronaval conference in Paris.

Euronaval, organized by the French Ministry of Defense and the Secretariat of State for the Sea, kicked off on 22 Oct. at the Paris Le Bourget Exhibition Center. The four-day exhibition highlights naval and maritime security technologies, with a specific focus this year on UAS manufacturers and satellite applications.

On the first day of the exhibition, Israel Aerospace Industries showed live radar signals and infrared pictures from a warship sailing off the coast of Israel; a Heron 1 UAS captured those images in flight. According to Defense News, there's still some ambiguity about what kind of ship the Heron monitored. An anonymous IAI executive said it was a U.S. Navy destroyer, while some naval specialists claimed it was a vessel operated by the Israeli navy.

The maritime version of Heron 1 has an optical camera in the nose and a panoramic camera in its tail fin. Its payload can also include Elta maritime patrol radar, satellite communications, electronic and communications intelligence sensors, and electro-optical/infrared cameras.

Israeli company Rafael also unveiled the 11-meter variant of its Protector unmanned surface vehicle for the first time on the show floor. Shephard reports that the USV is operational with an undisclosed customer. As well as the difference in size from previous Protector models, this variant of the platform also boasts a water cannon, the Spotlight-N multisensor EO image system and Spike LR missiles on the weapon station; all were displayed on the Protector at the exhibition.

Also at this year's exhibition, Thales and DCNS announced that they had completed sea trials of the D2AS automatic takeoff and landing demonstrator for vertical takeoff and landing UAS. According to a Shephard report, the trials took place on 4 Oct. and were supported by the French Defense Procurement Authority. The testing included demonstrations of radar sensors, a harpoon system, air and dock beacons, a landing management human-machine interface and the D2AD simulator.

Sagetech, Arcturus Team to Demonstrate Joint Ops With ADS-B 
By Brett Davis
24 October 2012

Low in the blue sky over Camp Roberts, near Paso Robles, Calif., two small aircraft circled near each other.

They could see each other’s location, heading and altitude, and despite flying in proximity they managed to avoid each other quite handily. None of that would be remarkable except one of them was an unmanned aircraft and they were both depending on technology that could fit in the palm of your hand.

Not only that, but the system used a device that’s very common — Apple’s iPad — to help monitor the UAV.

Arcturus UAV, based in Rohnert Park, Calif., and Sagetech Corp., based in White Salmon, Wash., teamed to demonstrate that the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) system could be used to facilitate joint manned-unmanned operations.

ADS-B is “the new way of air traffic control to locate airplanes in the sky,” said Kelvin Scribner, the president and founder of Sagetech.

Scribner piloted a Cirrus SR-22 aircraft, taking off from nearby Paso Robles airport. An Arcturus T-20 UAV took off from Camp Roberts’ McMillan Airfield via its rail launch system and the two aircraft then flew an aerial ballet, although Scribner didn’t stray into the restricted airspace and the T-20 didn’t stray out of it.

“ADS-B is where the airplane simply reports GPS position and altitude. And anybody with any cheap receiver … can receive that location and plot it on a chart electronically. That is ADS-B in a nutshell and that’s what we’re doing here today,” Scribner said.

He warned that the demonstration would not be that exciting to watch — it consisted of two small airplane cartoons moving around on a screen — but he said, “we are witnessing a little bit of history here, and I think it is very important.”

An App for That

The system used Sagetech’s tiny XP transponders to broadcast ADS-B position messages, which were then received by the company’s Clarity receivers, which relayed them via Wi-Fi to an iPad using Hilton Software’s WingX application. The aircraft then appeared over a terrain map, identified by name. It also identified other aircraft flying nearby if they were using ADS-B.

The app is widely available; in fact, I downloaded it during the demonstration and was able to tap into the ADS-B stream via my iPhone.

ADS-B out capability will be required on every relevant aircraft in the United States by the beginning of 2020 and by many other countries as well. The systems can be tiny — Sagetech makes one that weighs just 3.5 ounces — and they can connect with apps such as WingX to display their information on iPads and similar consumer equipment.

The companies don’t claim that ADS-B is a magic bullet that solves the sense-and-avoid issue for unmanned aircraft, but say it’s a tool that could be used to speed the use of UAS in some instances, such as aircraft firefighting operations under temporary flight restrictions, or during military range operations.

“If you happen to own the airspace around some event like a forest fire, and there is a temporary flight restricted area there, a TFR around that, you could actually distribute the iPad and the Clarity to all your firefighter manned aircraft, the guys dumping their retardants on there, maybe you’ve got a few helicopters picking up buckets of water and dumping them on the fire, and then you’ve got a couple of spotter airplanes. Well, you could replace those spotter airplanes with an Arcturus T-20 today. And all you’ve got to do is give your iPads to the pilots flying those other airplanes … and now they can go out and interoperate with the UAV and know where he is.”

The demonstration, which was sponsored by AUVSI's Cascade Chapter, drew a small crowd that included observers from the U.S. Navy, the FAA and industry.

Chris Swider, an aerospace engineer at the FAA’s Aircraft Certification Service in Washington, attended the event and said Scribner’s assessment of the system sounded reasonable.

“Ultimately whether it’s allowable that way remains to be determined, but if it’s something that’s an extra layer of safety on top of an already safe operation … if it gives everybody an extra margin of safety, that’s wonderful, and maybe as standards are developed and people are comfortable with the use of it, it expands beyond that,” he said. But certainly as an initial tactical awareness and safety enhancement, it seems like it has some application.

“As long as people understand it as an awarenss of traffic tool, and it doesn’t get stretched into something much more than that, then certainly it seems to be able to support that,” he said.

DARPA Kicks Off Robotics Challenge
By Stephanie Levy
24 October 2012

Wednesday marks the official start of DARPA's Robotics Challenge. Over the next two years, teams will compete to develop and put to the test hardware and software designed to enable robots to assist humans in emergency response to disasters.

In all, 18 teams are currently slated to compete on two separate tracks. Seven teams on Track A will develop new robotic systems containing both hardware and software. While the robots in Track A must be able to operate in human-engineered environments, they don't necessarily have to be humanoid. The 11 teams in Track B will develop just software. Carnegie Mellon University and the NASA Jet pRopulsion Laboratory have teams competing in both tracks.

DARPA is also looking for teams to participate in Tracks C and D of the challenge. Track C provides an opportunity for individuals and teams from around the world to compete without the need for hardware. Track D is an option for teams around the world to develop both robotic hardware and software in pursuit of the common goal of effective disaster-response robots, but they would have to compete without dARPA funding. Registration to compete on either track is available at the Robotics Challenge website.

Another unique aspect of the challenge is the DRC Simulator. This will allow anyone with the skills to develop core robotic software to use the open-source simulator to show their work. In a qualifying challenge round scheduled for summer 2013, software from teams in Tracks B and C will face off in the Simulator. A Track C team will only receive DARPA funding if it advances past this qualifying round.

"The DRC Simulator is going to be one of DARPA's legacies to the robotics community," said Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager for the DRC, in a press release. "The value of a cloud-based simulator is that it gives talent from any location a common space to train, design, test and collaborate on ideas without the need for expensive hardware and prototyping. That opens the door to innovation."

 Track A Track B
Carnegie Mellon University-National Robotics Engineering Center
Lockheed Martin
Drexel University
Raytheon University of Kansas
SCHAFT Inc. Carnegie Mellon University
Virginia Tech MIT
NASA Johnson Space Center TRAC Labs
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory University of Washington

Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
  Ben-Gurion University
  NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  TORC Robotics

Robots to Tend to Lettuce Fields
By Stephanie Levy
24 October 2012

Blue River Technologies is developing the Lettuce Bot, which would perform tedious tasks like thinning and weeding lettuce fields. At the heart of the robot is a computer-vision algorithm that compares snapshots of lettuce rows taken by a camera on a tractor to a database of more than one million images; using that information, Lettuce Bot can distinguish between individual heads of lettuce and weeds. If there's a problem in the row, Lettuce Bot can use a targeted dose of highly concentrated fertilizer to control growth.

NBC News

New Robot Carves Your Jack-o'-Lantern
By Stephanie Levy
24 October 2012

PunkinBot is probably the least spooky thing to come out of Halloween this year. Developed by a father-son team in Indiana, PunkinBot is a pumpkin-carving robot; a computer converts the pumpkin design into code that directs the cutting tool on where to carve. The whole process takes about five minutes, and the robot can be programmed to make classic or custom jack-o'-lanterns.


Robot Hall of Fame Inducts its Most Popular Class
By Stephanie Levy
24 October 2012

A teacher, a soldier, a dog and a movie star come together at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center Tuesday for a special honor. That's because Aldebaran Robotics' NAO humanoid, iRobot's PackBot, Boston Dynamics' BigDog and Disney/Pixar's WALL-E were inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame.

Their induction marks the first time a class has been selected by popular vote. More than 17,000 people worldwide participated in the online vote in August and September. The new inductees were part of a group of 12 nominees across four categories: education and consumer; entertainment; industrial and service; and research.

"More than any previous class of inductees, this group of robots selected by popular vote represents contemporary robotics - robots at the cutting edge of technology - rather than old robots of strictly historical importance," said Shirley Saldamarco, Robot Hall of Fame director and a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center. "Two of our inductees, NAO and PackBot, are commercially available and BigDog is still the focus of active research. Even our fictional honoree, WALL-E, is from a movie that's just four years old."

NAO was inducted in the education and consumer category. It's an autonomous, programmable humanoid robot that's used as a K-12 STEM education platform. In the entertainment category, voters chose WALL-E, or Waste Allocate Load Lifter-Earth Class, the lovable star of the 2008 Disney/Pixar blockbuster in which WALL-E inadvertently embarks on a space journey that decides the fate of mankind. iRobot's PackBot, which performs bomb disposal and other dangerous missions for troops and first responders, won in the industrial and service category. Finally, BigDog was recognized in the research category. DARPA has sponsored BigDog's development as a robotic pack mule for soldiers navigating tough terrain.

DC Driverless Car Bill Gears Up for Changes
By Stephanie Levy
24 October 2012

The Washington, D.C., city council has made two major changes to the district's Autonomous Vehicle Act of 2012, the first driverless car bill in the region. First, autonomous vehicles in Washington would not have to be fueled by alternative energy sournces. Also, a vehicle miles traveled tax, which would cost less than two cents per mile traveled, would only apply to non-gas-powered vehicles.

"You don't need a tax exemption of this size to encourage buyers," said John Ross, senior adviser and director of economic development finance for the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. Ross testified as part of a public hearing Tuesday about the bill led by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, the bill's sponsor.

However, multiple witnesses did point out some hurdles the bill must still overcome to become law. First, the bill's definition of autonomy could encapsulate existing driver assistance technology.

"That would mean that these technologies would be captured in the definition and create a scenario where technologies that are available today to consumers, and already on the road in the District, would be reclassified as autonomous vehicles and subject to new licenses, registration requirements and potential fees," said Laura Dooley, director of state affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. While some witnesses argued that the timeline for integrating fully autonomous vehicles onto roadways is up to 20 years away, Cheh cited research from Google that predicted driverless cars would be on the road in approximately five years.

Witnesses also addressed the issue of liability, should an autonomous vehicle get in an accident. Currently, approximately 90 percent of all car crashes are caused by human error. But before autonomous vehicles can take to the road, Ryan Rybeck, director of consulting firm Just Economics, said they should be able to do more than merely obey traffic laws.

"We expect the vehicle operations to avoid collision even if they're in their legal right," he said. That includes being able to account for pedestrians, other vehicles and even debris on the road.

If the Autonomous Vehicle Act becomes law, it could reduce the number of traffic fatalities on Washington roads; according to testimony, the District had 284 fatalities on its roads last year. Witnesses also pointed out that self-driving cars in the District could have a positive impact on the environment by preventing traffic jams, rerouting passengers and encouraging efficient driving.

Arms, Armed and Armor: Lockheed Martin Ponders Options on SMSS
By Danielle Lucey
23 October 2012

Lockheed Martin intends on tweaking the design and capabilities of its self-funded Squad Mission Support System to include new sensors and account for changing concepts of operation. 

In a move away from cargo carrying, Lockheed’s Don Nimblett explained in a Tuesday briefing at the Association for the U.S. Army conference that SMSS is currently being tested by the Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, using a gyrocamera and a roller rake to perform anti-improvised explosive device work. 

“Our conclusion is it was very successful,” says Nimblett, on the ongoing TARDEC testing. 

The 9-inch gyrocamera uses a forward-looking infrared and laser range finder to provide data on the ground surrounding SMSS, revealing any areas where there might be buried IEDs. The roller would detonate any hidden ordnance, and the rake would dig 2 to 4 inches into the dirt to reveal any wires. Then troops could disarm the threat.

A possible way they could do that in the future is through the addition of an arm on SMSS, Nimblett told AUVSI. Lockheed would likely work with an existing arm maker and, through a division other than Missiles and Fire Control, create its own software to work the arm autonomously. Nimblett also said that the arm could be used to load and unload the cargo on SMSS, which is certified to carry up to 1,500 pounds, but was loaded up to 4,000 pounds on its most recent deployment to Afghanistan. 

The added weight came courtesy of a platoon using the system, instead of a squad like SMSS’ initial design purpose. This transition is part of a trend Lockheed is seeing in how troops use the vehicle.

Lockheed Martin is currently manufacturing a seventh SMSS to its lineup — this new one a Block 2 instead of a Block 1, though Nimblett could not comment on the differences. However, in the future the company is looking into possibly changing the chassis of the system, Nimblett told AUVSI, to one based on another company’s design. 

Nimblett also said Lockheed has concepts to arm SMSS, but is waiting on its customer to detail that requirement before it moves forward. To make the system less vulnerable, Lockheed is also considering adding armor to the main computer of SMSS, so it is not destroyed in gunfire. 

The company is currently in talks with the Department of Homeland Security on how SMSS might be used for border protection. 

ReconRobotics Rolls Out Larger Scout, Aims for UAS Market Expansion
By Danielle Lucey
23 October 2012

At this week’s Association of the U.S. Army meeting in Washington, D.C., ReconRobotics unveiled a prototype of Recon Scout XC, the big brother of its Recon Scout and Throwbot product line. 

The platform is based on the same chassis as a Recon Scout XT, but with its larger wheel design can go over 4-inch obstacles. 

ReconRobotics has been working on this platform for about 10 months, says Bob Dedic, the company’s military sales manager, after the company got feedback from its military users that they’d like a more all-terrain capability. The Recon Scout XC, which stands for cross-country, will likely be available in the early part of next year.

ReconRobotics has also changed its operator control unit, integrating the antennas onto the system, so they are no longer part of an OCU kit that needs some assembly. 

The company is also branching out of ground robots and is creating a landing system for small UAVs. The company’s new technology grew out of purchasing local Minnesota company Xollai, a company grown out of a University of St. Thomas project. 

The system uses three LED lights on an UAV that are detected and decoded by an algorithm to gain altitude, range and orientation data. The company is working on making the vision-based UAS lander available by the third quarter of 2013. 

3-D Printed UAS Takes to the Skies
By Stephanie Levy
23 October 2012

Engineers at the University of Virginia have used 3-D printers to build an entire unmanned aircraft. The plane has a 6.5-foot wingspan, and was made from assembled printed parts. Researchers tested the UAS during four flights in August and September at Milton Airfield near Kenswick, Va.

NBC News

Aurora, SRI International Sarnoff Integrate On-Board Video Processing into Skate UAS
By Stephanie Levy
22 October 2012

Aurora Flight Sciences and SRI International Sarnoff announced the integration of the SRI Sarnoff DL Micro digital data link and video processor onto Aurora's Skate small unmanned aerial system, which will allow for real-time delivery of video from the SUAS.

The DL Micro system weight 46 gram and consumes 5.8 watts of energy during transmission. According to the company, electronic image stabilization combined with H.264 encoding gives the DL Micro digital data link specific advantages. The Skate UAS will use the DL Micro at altitudes of up to 13,000 feet.

In a joint statement, the companies said the DL Micro system on board the Skate UAS could be critical for military and law enforcement, where onboard cameras deliver intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for pop-up and fleeting threats. Image stabilization on board the aircraft enhances the mission by improving video smoothness, quality and compression.

Cyberdyne Unveils Improved Robot Suit
By Stephanie Levy
22 October 2012

Japanese company Cyberdyne has unveiled improvements to its robotic suit called HAL. Short for Hybrid Assistive Limb suit, HAS is an ideal fit to provide robot assistance that can be essential in an environment like the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. HAL went on display at Japan Robot Week 2012.

Tom's Hardware

Weekend Roundup
19 October 2012

  • X1, a robotic augmentation riff of NASA's Robonaut, is designed to make astronauts stronger, as well as maintain fitness, during long space voyages. (Time)
  • A robotic wheelchair has wheels that behave like legs and can walk up stairs. (NBC News)
  • A miniature robot that uses an iPhone for brains has a Kickstarter page ... again. (Slashgear)
  • Researchers from the University of Delaware are using an underwater robot to study the behavior and migration patterns of sand tiger sharks. (Red Orbit)
  • ROVs deployed in the Gulf of Mexico collected oil samples from the site of the Deepwater Horizon spill to determine the source of a surface sheen discovered there last month. (Offshore Shipping Online)

Lockheed Martin Highlights Improvements, Integration in Unmanned Tech
By Stephanie Levy
19 October 2012

At Lockheed Martin's media roundtable Friday, which highlighted advances in international defense operations before AUSA 2012 in Washington, the company announced milestones in the modernization and integration of its autonomous technologies.

"You can leverage unmanned technology not only from a cost, but from a security perspective," said Michelle Evans, vice president of business development for the company's Mission Systems & Sensors division.

For instance, upgrades to the Q-53 counterfire target acquisition radar include air surveillance capabilities that can detect small unmanned aircraft. The system already detects, classifies and tracks enemy rocket, mortar and artillery fire. Lee Flake, director of counterfire target radar systems for Lockheed Martin, said this software change will allow the warfighter to understand if possible hostile aircraft are in the airspace. Lockheed Martin will have the improved radar on display at AUSA.

Jim Naylor, business development director for Lockheed Martin's K-Max unmanned helicopter, discussed the multiple contracts for the aircraft. After a year in theater, the U.S. Army's K-Max's contract has been extended through March 2013, with an option to extend again through September 2013. Lockheed Martin has also contracted K-Max as part of a fly-off against Aurora Flight Sciences for the Office of Naval Research's Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility Systems, or AACUS, program.

As part of AACUS, Naylor says the company has successfully demonstrated a beacon on K-Max.

"Think of it as a hockey puck," he explained. "The Marine places it in the battlefield for resupply. The K-Max flies to a location, picks up the beacon and is able to have the spot they want the delivery placed."

In demonstrations, the K-Max landed within three meters of its target beacon. Naylor says this capability keeps Marines out of harm's way.

Underwater Robots Gain New, Improved Missions at Oceans ‘12
By Danielle Lucey
18 October 2012


Underwater robots, and all their sensors, connectors and contractors, filled the show floor at this year’s Oceans ’12 MTS/IEEE Hampton Roads, wrapping up this week at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. The conference also had dedicated education tracks focused on autonomous underwater vehicles and remotely operated vehicles.

IRobot spoke at one of the sessions dedicated to AUVs, announcing an upgrade to the company’s Seaglider communications system.

When iRobot purchased the vehicle line from the University of Washington in 2008, the robot could successfully establish a call via Iridium satellite to upload and download data 71 percent of the time on the first attempt. However, with iRobot’s initial version of the vehicle, that number sunk to 55 percent because of the changes the company had to make to the robot to make it mass producible, said Chris Yahnker, chief engineer of maritime systems. 

However, through a series of hardware improvements, a switch to Iridium’s RUDICS (Router-Based Unrestricted Digital Internetworking Connectivity Solution) data service and a change in how iRobot packets its data, the system can now make that connection 91 percent of the time on the first call. The company will now offer this enhanced reliability set up to its existing and new customers. 

“It makes you spend way less time sitting on the surface,” explained Yahnker. 

There are currently about 80 iRobot Seagliders in use. 

Liquid Robotics was on hand to discuss its latest venture into oil and gas. The company recently entered into a joint venture with Schlumberger, the largest oilfield services company in the world, to create Liquid Robotics Oil & Gas. The company will use Wave Gliders for pipeline surveys, searching for oil, and meteorological and oceanographic studies, said the company’s Grant Palmer.

The venture is a huge cost savings compared to using the same kinds of sensors on a ship to perform the same services, he said. By next year, Palmer said Liquid Robotics Oil & Gas plans to roll out 1,000 Wave Gliders for performing missions.  

Lockheed Martin recently performed similar work with its Marlin AUV. The robot just spent 21 days in July working with an unnamed oil company to image old oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico that are currently out of service. All these rigs must be removed because of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Idle Iron policy, requiring plugs on the 3,500 nonproducing wells in the Gulf of Mexico. 

“They want to know what’s down there, what does it look like,” said William Senke, undersea systems business development for Lockheed’s undersea systems. 

The company is also rolling out two additional Marlins within the next few weeks that will be available for lease.

NASA Exploring $1.5 Million Unmanned Aircraft Competition
By Stephanie Levy
18 October 2012

The next round of NASA's patented Centennial Challenge may urge companies to build the next innovative unmanned aircraft. NASA announced its plans to partner with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop the challenge with a $1.5 million prize purse.

Network World

Robot Reporting for Duty After Shooting
By Stephanie Levy
18 October 2012

In a September SWAT operation in Bellevue, Neb., a suspect shot an ARA Pointman Tactical Robot with four rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun, all at close range. But just one month later, the robot is repaired and back on the force. It was shipped back to Bellevue on 11 Oct. to resume SWAT responsibilities.

Prior to being temporarily disabled, the robot was able to monitor a key exit for multiple hours and relay the position and disposition of the suspect to SWAT officers further away. The SWAT operation ultimately ended with the suspect in custody.

"Had we not deployed the Pointman robot, there is a good chance we would have had SWAT officers much closer to that doorway and possibly in harm's way," said Dave Stukenholtz, criminal investigations bureau commander for the Bellevue Police Department.

"It did its job," says Bob Quinn, leader of ARA's unmanned and security products division. "Anytime a robot is shot, it's an example of keeping an officer out of the line of fire. Not only did the robot keep SWAT officers informed of suspect activity, but it's rugged enough that even  after four hours at close range, it's fixable and quickly ready to rejoin the team in Nebraska."

Northrop Grumman Robots Tackle Explosive Situations

By Stephanie Levy
17 October 2012

Photo courtesy Northrop Grumman

Bomb squads may soon get backup from a robot that synergizes tools from video games and police officers. Northrop Grumman subsidiary Remotec announced Wednesday that the Titus unmanned ground vehicle, the newest in its Andros line of UGVs, is ready for demonstrations, with the first deliveries of the system expected in early 2013. The first models will be used for explosive ordnance disposal and SWAT teams.

"The real difference is in the area we're looking to go into - the HAZMAT element of this market," says Michael Knopp, director of Northrop Grumman Remotec's Defense Systems Division. "In our product design, we've built, as we go along, hooks to ... put sensors on this platform and send it down to environments that might be explosive or dangerous: gases, chemical spills, etc."

Weighing in at 135 pounds and measuring 27 inches long, the company says Titus was designed as a multimission robot. Operators use a hybrid interactive touchscreen interface or a video game-style control to maneuver the vehicle, which can reach speeds of up to 6 mph. On board, Titus has four cameras and a robotic arm with six degrees of freedom. Using the proven four-articulator design of previous Andros systems, that arm can extend an additional 49 inches into hard-to-reach areas, like under a car.

Titus has some semi-autonomous capabilities, such as intelligent payloads, preset positioning, real-time 3-D representation and the ability to climb stairs. It also comes with a taser and mountable weapons disrupter. The disrupter is essentially designed as a self-defense tool in EOD situations; it shoots a high-velocity jet of water at close range to detonate a potentially hazardous object.

"[The taser] is something we've been talking with law enforcement about for a long time," says Knopp. "There is an issue where a lot of the time tasers will time out after, I believe, 20 minutes. But we can reenergize the taser, so you don't have to worry about the taser cycling off right before you use it."

Knopp says Titus will initially cost up to $175,000, and the company has pending proposal orders for 16 units it expects to be awarded by the end of the year.

"It is our intent to bring to the market something that actually fights above its weight class: a very light robot, relatively speaking, that actually offers a lot of the capabilities that much heavier robots deliver and at the same time gives our law enforcement and military customers a lot of options they don't currently have," says Philip Coker, director of integrated platform solutions at Northrop Grumman.

Check out Titus in action at the National Press Club in Washington:


Lobster Lends a Hand

Northrop Grumman Remotec also showed off the advances being made on its Lobster robot, a conceptual prototype the company anticipates will be ready for deliveries late next year.

Lobster is a highly dexterous dual-arm system where each arm has eight degrees of freedom, mimicking a human arm. The operator wears a suit connected to the robot, and the robotic arms mirror human movement. The system's stereoscopic 3-D camera gives critical depth perception to operators and technicians. Vito Gambino, Andros product manager for Northrop Grumman Remotec, says this allows the operator to be completely immersed in the environment, even using tools from a built-in caddy as part of an EOD mission. Lobster can be used as either a tethered or wireless system and has marsupial capabilities so that other ground systems can carry the robot around the battlefield.

"There are some concepts to take Lobster as a package and attach it to [Titus]," says Mark Kauchak, director of sales and customer support at Northrop Grumman Remotec.

Robot Sub Creates 3-D Maps of Antarctic Ice Underside
By Stephanie Levy
16 October 2012

For the first time in East Antarctica, climate scientists have produced a 3-D map of the surface beneath an ice floe, using an AUV. The antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre studied the inverted topography below the ice for two months.

Discovery News

Trash-Hunting Robotic Submarine Dives into Chicago River
By Stephanie Levy
16 October 2012

A small, remote-controlled submarine fetching trash in the Chicago River won't be able to clean it up on its own - it only has one claw - but the system is part of a long-term plan to do so. It's also a way to educate locals about the bigger pollution picture.

NBC News

Rockwell Collins to Develop GPS Jamming, Spoofing Detection Technology
By Stephanie Levy
16 October 2012

Rockwell Collins announced Monday that the Office of Naval Research had awarded the company a $1.25 million, three-year contract to develop technology that will locate and classify enemy attempts to interfere with GPS signals and disrupt military operations. The Modernized Integrated Spoofer Tracking, or MIST, program calls for Rockwell Collins to develop technology and prototype systems concepts to detect and locate sources of signals trying to disrupt warfighter communications.

"This program will help assure that essential high accuracy navigation and timekeeping services are available to weapons platforms and military users while enabling warfighters to identify potential threats," said John Borghese, vice president of the Rockwell Collins Advanced Technology Center.

During the first year of the contract, Rockwell Collins said in a statement it would develop advanced algorithms. Then, the company will conduct, validate and refine the capability through lab testing and demonstrations.

In the past, Rockwell Collins has developed a selective availability anti-spoofing module (SAASM) for the military, which makes their GPS receivers tamper-proof. The company announced in September that their MicroGRAM GPS receiver, which uses SAASM, was incorporated onto the WASP AE small UAS.

"Having secure GPS significantly reduces the possibility that the Wasp AE can be jammed or spoofed," said Dave Schreck, director of UAS and control technologies for Rockwell Collins.

Rockwell Collins spokesman Dave Gosch said the technology has not yet been implemented on civil UAS. The issue of spoofing civil UAS came into sharp focus this summer when researchers from the University of Texas testified to Congress how they had successfully commandeered the GPS signals of a civil UAS. Researchers also demonstrated these capabilities, which involve creating false GPS  signals that trick the aircraft's GPS receiver, to the Department of Homeland Security in White Sands, N.M., in June.

"We're seeing the early stages of this as far as integrating UAS - the small UAS - into the airspace. We do think eventually there will be a need for [anti-spoofing]," Gosch said.

ScanEagle Lands on USS Ponce

By Stephanie Levy
16 October 2012


Insitu's ScanEagle UAS successfully landed on the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf. The aircraft landed on the ship by snagging a cable with its wing. The camera on board ScanEagle transmits video to sailors who watch for threatening boats.

PBS News Hour

Scientists Aim to Create Robot MacGyver
By Stephanie Levy
15 October 2012

Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology are trying to give robots the ability to use objects in their environments to perform high-level tasks, a la an autonomous MacGyver. Using a three-year, $900,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research, the researchers will use the robot "to understand the basic cognitive processes that allow humans to take advantage of arbitrary objects in their environments as tools," says team leader Mike Stilman.

"We will achieve this by designing algorithms for robots that make tasks that are impossible for a robot alone possible for a robot with tools," he says.

Stilman and his researchers plan to develop an algorithm that would allow a robot to identify an arbitrary object across a room, determine its function and turn that object into a tool that could be used to complete a task. By providing the robot with basic knowledge of rigid body mechanics and simple machines, the robot should be able to autonomously determine the mechanical force properties of an object and construct motion plans for using the objective to perform high-level tasks.

For instance, robots are increasingly being used in lie of humans to explore hazardous and difficult-to-access environments, but they can't interact with their environments as well as humans. If today's most sophisticated robot was trapped in a burning room by a jammed door, it would probably not know hot to locate and use objects in the room to escape. But using the developments from this research, a robot could locate an object in the room, analyze it and use it to get out of that room.

Robot Plumbs the Depths of the Gowanus Canal
By Stephanie Levy
15 October 2012

The Gowanus Canal is already a known toxic site. Now, researchers at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University will use a fleet of rovers to roam its depths for the next few years to find what lurks in the water. The robots, which cost about $3,000 each, will each be equipped with underwater and above-water cameras an a multitude of sensors to measure the water's acidity, oxygen, temperature, air quality and salinity. They will also upload new data and photos to a website every few seconds.

The New York Times

Weekend Roundup

  • Two Global Hawk UAVs flew in close formation, only 30 feet apart, for the first time as part of an autonomous aerial refueling test. (Gizmag)
  • Boeing and Korean Air Aerospace Division announced they would broaden their cooperative relationship to include unmanned aircraft. (IHS Janes)
  • The Israel Defense Force is developing logistics to use Elbit Systems' Flying Elephant UAS to transport cargo. (Globes)
  • The Brooklyn Robot Foundry is debuting an all-girls robot-building club. (DNA Info)
  • The U.S. Navy's Submarine Rescue Diving Recompression System (SRDRS) is a 183-ton ROV capable of diving 2,000 feet below the waves, mating with a disabled submarine and ferrying up to 155 people to the surface. (Gizmodo)
  • Researchers at MIT have developed a robot that can assemble IKEA furniture. (Smithsonian blog)

Israel Alters Transponder Rules After UAV Breach
By Stephanie Levy
12 October 2012

After a foreign UAV entered Israeli airspace on 6 Oct., Israel will now introduce new regulations to make transponder use mandatory for operations of ultralight and other general aviation aircraft, according to a report by Flightglobal. A transponder will have to be used on every aerial platform that flies into the airspace, and operators must be able to maintain constant radio contact with Israeli air force control centers. Flightglobal writes these centers will help to create a complete picture of air traffic movements.


Insitu Pacific Conducts Successful Maiden Flight With PicoSAR
By Stephanie Levy
12 October 2012

Insitu Pacific, the Australia-based subsidiary of Insitu Inc., announced Tuesday that the PicoSAR, or synthetic aperture radar, had successfully completed its maiden flight on board the company's Integrator tactical unmanned aircraft system. The aircraft's PicoSAR came from SELEX Galileo, and its embedded, advanced processing delivered high-resolution SAR images from extended ranges, according to the company. All modes and functions of the SAR were successfully tested.

"This has been a fantastic team effort between Insitu Pacific, Insitu and SELEX Galileo personnel, who have collaborated closely to achieve this impressive result. This is exactly the type of rapid payload integration capability that the Integrator UAS platform has been designed to facilitate," says Andrew Duggan, Insitu Pacific managing director.

According to a company release, PicoSAR offers high-resolution strip and spot SAR. Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) modes enable operators to conduct both wide-area surveillance and real-time moving target detection missions. The operator can use both functions in all weather conditions.

Video: Brock Demos Autonomous Resupply
By Stephanie Levy
11 October 2012


Brock Technologies completed a series of unmanned test flights with ultralight-type aircraft. These flights carried a variety of payloads, some of which reached 205 pounds. Winds during these tests varied from 5 to 15 knots direct cross.

Civil UAS Flights Permitted by French Aviation Authorities
By Stephanie Levy
11 October 2012

The DGAC, France's Civil Aviation Authority, has awarded Delair-Tech the first authorization ever issued in France to fly cigvil UAS in French airspace at altitudes of more than 100 kilometers. Based in Toulouse, France, Del-Air Tech specializes in designing and manufacturing long-endurance mini UAS.


Deep-Sea Stations Could Recharge Underwater Robots
By Stephanie Levy
11 October 2012

Bluefin Robotics is developing underwater charging stations for autonomous underwater vehicles. These docking stations communicate directly with underwater vehicles, guiding them to where they can recharge and transfer data.

The Boston Globe

Canberra Rescue UAS Wins $10,000 Prize
By Stephanie Levy
11 October 2012

A team of researchers from Canberra, Australia, won the $10,000 Outback Rescue Challenge with a UAS that successfully found a dummy hiker. The team is already planning improvements to the system for next year's event; specifically, they want the UAS to be able to deliver supplies to a lost hiker.

ABC News

Scion UAS Wins Military Contract for Unmanned Systems
By Stephanie Levy
10 October 2012

This September, the Naval Research Laboratory contracted Scion UAS to deliver two of its unmanned helicopters within nine months, with an option for a third in the future. According to the lab's request for proposals, the unmanned helicopter must be able to aunomously take off from and land on a moving ship, fly sideways into a 46-knot wind and carry a payload of at least 90 pounds.

Reporter Herald

EADS, BAE Merger Terminated
By Stephanie Levy
10 October 2012

EADS announced Wednesday that the proposed merger with the U.K.'s BAE Systems has been terminated due to lack of support from government stakeholders. Rainer Ohler, head of group communications for EADS, said there was a specific lack of support from the German government concerning the deal.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the proposed deal would have resulted in the world's biggest aerospace and defense company, with EADS shareholders owning 60 percent of the new company and BAE's investors owning 40 percent. Revenues from the new company would have exceeded $90 billion, with a market value of approximately $50 billion. In a joint statement, the companies said the could not fully disclose the benefits and detailed business case for the merger as presented to the government.

The two companies had initially announced their plans to merge on 12 Sept. According to BAE, the cost savings and efficiencies of the merger would have been deliverable with no threat to national security. Since the announcement of the proposed merger, BAE and EADS had agreed to principal merger terms - legal structure, government involvement and cost savings - pending approval from each company's board.

"We are obviously disappointed that we were unable to reach an acceptable agreement with our various government stakeholders," said Ian King, chief executive of BAE systems, in a joint statement. "We believe the merger presented a unique opportunity for BAE Systems and EADS to combine two world-class and complementary businesses to create a world-leading aerospace, defense and security group."

"EADS will continue on its international growth path, and our shareholders can continue to expect profitable growth, excellent liquidity and program execution based on a strong order book," said Tom Enders, chief executive of EADS. Neither company would comment on the possibility of future joint business ventures.

Trimble Introduces Next Generation Software for UAS

By Stephanie Levy
9 October 2012

Trimble introduced the latest version of its Inpho software at INTERGEO 2012. The new Inpho 5.5 includes UAS data processing and LPMaster, a new software product specifically designed for aerial lidar and imaging data production.

"This release brings Inpho's high-quality approach to aerial photogrammetry into new markets and application scenarios," said Katherine Sandford, general manager of Trimble's GeoSpatial Division, in a press release. "As UAS and aerial lidar usage continues to grow, Inpho is will positioned to continue its leadership in aerial photogrammetry."

According to the company, Inpho 5.5 is specifically designed to manage UAS image characteristics like camera calibration and image qality. LPMaster is a new software product supporting laser data production for the Trimble Harrier aerial lidar and imaging system. According to Trimble, together the software simplifies project setup and data handling.

Inpho 5.5 also provides improvements for existing users of old software. In the new version, users can benefit from shorter computation times and higher thoroughput, which are achieved by doubling the number of supported cores. Even large projects are now smoothly displayed, leveraging in-memory patch-ortho-mosaics for premium performance.

Video: IAF Downs Unmanned Aircraft

By Stephanie Levy
9 October 2012


The Israeli Air Force released video of a foreign UAV that was shot down over Israeli airspace on 6 October. Initial reports claim the UAV came from Lebanon and may have been controlled by Hezbollah.


Weekend Roundup
5 October 2012
  • The Israeli Air Force is upgrading the three UAS it has in its fleet. (Business Line)
  • Unmanned air systems will make a significant contribution in defending the huge gas reservoirs that have been discovered in the Mediterranean off Israel's coast. (Flightglobal)
  • RUAG is working with General Dynamics European Land Systems Mowag to integrate a vehicle robotics kit to a manned platform, marking the company's first significant foray into the UGV arena. (IHS Janes)
  • Howe and Howe Technologies is working on a robot that could be integrated into firefighting teams, keeping humans away from extreme fires, fuel explosions, chemical leaks and nuclear meltdowns. (Wired)
  • Kinze Autonomy and Jaybridge Robotics teamed up to demonstrate a robotic system that's actively harvesting corn for three large-scale growers. (AzO Robotics)

Are Robot Turtles Taking Over?
4 October 2012

The latest prototype of Naro-Tartaruga, a robotic "turtle" created by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, will take its first open water dive later this month. The robot's fins contain actuators for 3-D movement. Naro-Tartaruga can also move about 6 feet per second and dive to depths of more than 300 feet.


UK’s Alex Marshall: We Need UAS

4 October 2012

Speaking ahead of the launch of the U.K.’s new National Police Air Service, Chief Constable Alex Marshall said using unmanned aircraft for law enforcement purposes would be a cheaper, more efficient system than manned aircraft. Marshall leads the NPAS scheme for the Association of Chief Police Officers.

The Independent

2d3 Sensing Releases Suite at GEOINT
By Stephanie Levy
4 October 2012

2d3 Inc. has announced the release of software updates across its entire product line: TacitView 3.1, Catalina 2.1 and Tungsten 3.1. The company says the new software suite has been redesigned from the ground up to ensure maximum extensibility, interoperability and standards compliance. 2d3 will officially roll out the new software products at GEOINT in Orlando, Fla., from 9-11 Oct.

“Last year, we made a strategic decision to invest in a next-generation architecture,” says Jon Damush, president of 2d3. “HD is becoming commonplace. The volume of motion imagery collected is continuing to expand. The need to process, exploit and disseminate that information is growing exponentially.”

The software works together in layers. At the foundation, the modular Tungsten 3.1 libraries handle the heavy lifting of management and processing motion imagery and metadata. Next, Catalina 2.1 provides audio ingestion and storage, chat ingestion and storage, user-defined tag ingest and storage, metadata optimization, optical character recognition and on-screen overlay redaction. It also serves as the foundation for the final layer: the Tacit View. TacitView 3.1 is exploitation software with plug-in architecture that allows for motion imagery viewing, editing, annotation and exploitation.

MicroStrain Introduces SensorCloud CSV Uploader
By Stephanie Levy
4 October 2012

On Monday, MicroStrain debuted its new CSV Uploader for SensorCloud, which it says simplifies and streamlines access to cloud-based sensor data. Users drag and drop CSV files from Node Commander 2.6 directly into SensorCloud.

There’s also an available, downloadable CSV Uploader template, which provides a standard formatting guide for users to import their own data.

“The CSV Uploader is a convenient tool which allows wireless sensor users to rapidly access the benefits of cloud-based data,” said Ben Corneau, manager of software engineering at MicroStrain, in a company release. “As a result, it has never been easier or more efficient to analyze and collaborate on sensor data. … Our CSV Uploader enables our wireless sensor networks to support enhanced monitoring, management and research for today’s smart structures, vehicles, industrial processes and remote environments.”

Ibis Hotel Installs Robots to Paint Sleeping Guests
By Stephanie Levy
3 October 2012


The Ibis international hotel chain offers lots of amenities: free Wi-Fi, 24-hour concierge and, now, robot painters? The hotel chain is taking part in the "Sleep Art Project." Forty guests will sleep on beds equipped with 80 sensors that transmit data on movement, sound and temperature to a robot with a paintbrush. The robot then interprets this data into its own work of art. The paintings from the project go on display across Europe this month.

And as you can see in the video, the final paintings are pretty good.

Huffington Post

ONR Selects Autonomous Cargo Helicopter Program Contractors
By Danielle Lucey
3 October 2012

Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors and Aurora Flight Sciences have been selected as the two contractors that will be pitted against each other in a fly-off for the Office of Naval Research’s AACUS program.

The fly-off, scheduled for 18 months from now, will see Lockheed, leveraging its work with Kaman on K-MAX, versus Aurora software, outfitted on a Sikorsky S-76, to prove which is the better option for fully autonomous cargo resupply, called in from a Marine or infantryman with no pilot experience.

“We are interested to see who can come up with the technology, and 18 months actually is a very short time frame that we’re asking them to integrate this. So they’re going to be working hard,” says Dr. Mary “Missy” Cummings, AACUS program officer for ONR.

The AACUS, or Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System, program is the cutting edge of autonomy programs, according to Cummings. The companies will have to create a series of sensors with the quick computational ability to call a vertical-lift aircraft into a potentially hostile environment, determine where to land without operator input and without any hovering, make an angled approach and land with no overhead imagery, get unloaded or loaded by a Marine, then takeoff again, all in about a five minute window of time. Alternately, AACUS may also prove a good option for casualty evacuation.

“Let’s say your buddy takes bullet to the chest,” says Cummings. “In the current operations right now, you would have to put this person in a Humvee … to get them to a trauma unit. It’s going to take a while — hours. The idea is that if we had one of these unmanned helicopters that can go into hostile conditions … we can put them at a lot greater risk at situations we would never put manned helicopters in.”

The program is platform-agnostic, says Cummings. The K-MAX and S-76 will just be used for the flight demonstration.

“They basically need to give me an app, or something like an app, that will be tested, and what we’ll do is on that flight demo, we’re going to give a Marine Corps general, whose had very little time on an iPad,” she explains. “We’re going to give that guy the application, and he’s going to be the one that has to call the helicopter in, and somebody with no aviation background.”

The feat will be a challenge both in computation speed and sensing, with each technological hurdle entwined with the other.

“That is a monumental increase in computation that is integrated with the sensing, because those two things cannot be looked at individually,” says Cummings. “They’re a system component that has to be looked at together.”

If the winning concept adheres to ONR’s plans, the system would be able to fly into fire better than a manned aircraft.

“We’re asking them to be better, because first of all we’re asking the AACUS-enabled systems to be able to land in wind conditions that exceed pilot capabilities, in weather, visibility for example … and brown out conditions,” says Cummings, adding brown-out conditions, common in dusty Iraq and Afghanistan, are the most common cause of military rotorcraft accidents.

The scenario is not that different from landing the Mars rover, says Cummings —without the potential enemy fire, of course. Because of this close tie, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab is working as a partner with ONR on AACUS. They are both joined by the Army’s Aeroflightdynamics Directorate, which is working to ensure AACUS is platform-agnostic. The Marine Corps is the customer of the AACUS program.

This level of autonomy currently does not exist, according to Cummings.

“Autonomy is when we start to introduce probabilistic reasoning where the computer’s going to have to make some guesses and estimates about what is happening. So in the presence of uncertainty the computer will then start to make decisions that would normally be left to an operator at a ground control station.”

The down-select is set to happen after the fly-off, but ONR is leaving open the possibility of moving it to later.

“It’s always possible that if both teams do very well and we can get funding additional funding … that we can move the down-select period,” she says. “We have to eventually choose; there’s not enough money to keep everybody going for the whole time.”

The program runs through 2017, with annual demos running until the final review. If AACUS works exactly like ONR plans, the program will be turned over to program partner NAVAIR, which may purchase a number of the systems.

Cummings wouldn’t get into detail on Lockheed and Aurora’s concepts, other than to say they are both multisensory.

The K-MAX is currently capable of external sling load cargo carrying, and AACUS focuses on internal load carrying.

“AACUS is the college level leap above K-MAX,” says Cummings.

“K-MAX was a necessary first step for AACUS, but AACUS will actually take the concepts behind K-MAX and substantially advance them,” says Cummings. “I would actually tell you this is substantially advancing autonomy for the government. We’re one of the most advanced autonomy program right now in the research and development community. It’s basically taking a dumb UAV and turning it into a smart UAV.”

Aurora is a close partner of Sikorsky’s, creating parts for the company’s helicopters.

Cummings says the leap to this level of autonomy may be a challenge of trust at first for the military. But she believes as more robotic and autonomous systems enter people’s lives, those cultural obstacles will fall away.

“They will fall because of technologies like the Google car, so I think we as a nation, we’re going to start getting used to more autonomous technologies, one of which may be the car that we drive every day,” she said. “So if robotic cars become a staple in everyone’s driveway, then I can guarantee we’ll see all kinds of robotic aircraft, not just casualty evacuation.”

Dragan-flies to the Rescue of Law Enforcement Agencies
By Stephanie Levy
3 October 2012

Draganflyer showed off its unmanned helicopter at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) this week. You can see a photo of it in action on AUVSI's Twitter.

The Draganflyer ES (Emergency Services) unmanned aircraft line includes the six-rotor Draganflyer X6-ES and the larger, four-rotor Drganflyer X4-ES. Both are exclusively sold to public safety agencies.

Used to obtain video from an aerial vantage point, these unmanned helicopters feature a digital wireless video downlink, multiple camera payload options with gyro-stabilized camera mount and handheld controllers available with integrated digital video display. The ground control station controller provides real-time aircraft telemetry, camera control, on-screen live digital video feed, semi-autonomous flight modes for altitude hold and GPS position hold functions, map location display and verbal warning messages.

Cheap Robots Give African Education a (Sugar) Rush
Stephanie Levy
2 October 2012

This summers' African Robotics Network design challenge was a competition to help bring robotics education to African classrooms. One of the winners, Suckerbot (it gets the name from the lollipops on board), can be assembled for around $10 and performs simple tasks like navigation and communication. In all, 10 robots won awards in three categories.


German Navy Invests in AUVs
By Stephanie Levy
2 October 2012


Germany’s Federal Office of Defense Technology and Procurement (BWB) In Koblenz has placed a contract for six of Hydroid’s REMUS 100 autonomous underwater vehicles. The AUVs will be delivered to the German navy and military personnel over the next 12 and will assist with mine diving missions. The system has already undergone extensive trials by the German Bundeswehr Technical Center for Ships and Naval Weapons.

“We are pleased to be able to collaborate with BWB and Bornhöft Industriegeraete GmbH to introduce REMUS technology into the German navy to enhance mine countermeasure operations in very shallow water operations,” says Graham Lester, director of Hydroid Europe.

According to the company, its REMUS 100 AUV is equipped with side-scan sonar and various other oceanographic sensors. It navigates by transponder interrogation and Doppler velocity log-aided inertial dead reckoning in preprogrammed missions. The recorded data is used to search for mines, lost objects, debris and wrecks. It can also collect topographic ocean floor mapping for hydrographic and scientific applications.

Video: NEC Shows Off PaPeRo Telecommunications Robot
2 October 2012

NEC introduced its PaPeRo telecommunications robot at Ceatec 2012 in Japan. Users control PaPeRo remotely via an app. The user "sees" through the cameras attached to the robot.

Watch PaPeRo in action. Users have already demonstrated better control of the robot’s head. 


NASA, UND, MITRE Team Up for Unmanned Sense-and-Avoid Testing
By Stephanie Levy
2 October 2012

On 20 Sept., aircraft flown by NASA and the University of North Dakota took to the skies to demonstrate a new kind of unmanned sense-and-avoid technology. Over the course of two weeks of testing, NASA, UND and the MITRE Corp. worked on technology that could one day help unmanned aircraft better integrate into the national airspace system.

“The concept is that we could have technology on board that could sense an aircraft, and if the pilot on the ground doesn’t immediately react, it could maneuver the aircraft away from a possible conflict,” explains Katherine Barnstorff, media relations specialist for NASA’s Langley Research Center.

MITRE and UND developed automatic sense-and-avoid computer software algorithms that were uploaded onto a NASA Langley Cirrus SR-22 general aviation aircraft. A supporting UND Cessna 172 flew as a simulated “intruder” aircraft. Ultimately, the NASA plane demonstrated how technology on board allowed it to avoid the UND aircraft. The Cirrus, which was developed as a test bed to assess and mimic unmanned aircraft systems, had a safety pilot in the cockpit, but researchers say computer programs developed by MITRE and UND automatically maneuvered the aircraft to avoid conflicts.

“While we were testing, we also did ongoing updates to both the algorithms we tested,” said Barnstorff. She said UND and MITRE made changes to the software on board the NASA aircraft, and researchers tweaked how the plane measured its proximity to the intruder.

Barnstorff says NASA and its partners are planning additional test flights in 2013. Follow-on testing would feature additional advanced software by MITRE and UND as well as sense-and-avoid software managed by a task automation framework developed by Draper Laboratory.

"One of the toughest obstacles to safe integration of unmanned aircraft into civilian airspace is the availability of technology to mitigate the lack of an onboard pilot who can see and avoid," said Andy Lacher, MITRE’s UAS integration lead, in a press release. "This is a complex operational and technical challenge that requires significant research in the community to address. What we are doing here will help inform and future development of performance standards for sense and avoid."

At IACP 2012, FAA Provides Update on Selection of UAS Test Sites
1 October 2012

At the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual meeting in San Diego, Randy Willis of the Federal Aviation Administration provided an update on the status of the six test sites for UAS that were laid out in law earlier this year. According to Willis, the FAA is currently developing “selection criteria” to evaluate the test site applications. He also said the first new test site for small UAS “should be operational within a year.”

Government Security News

Weekend Roundup
28 September 2012
  • As payloads for the Hermes 450 UAS get heavier, the Israeli Air Force is looking for ways to decrease the noise emitted by the aircraft's engines. (Flightglobal)
  • General Atomics announced its Predator/Gray Eagle UAV has hit an industry milestone by flying a combined two million flight hours. (Ottawa Citizen)
  • The British military has spent more than 2 billion pounds on UAVs in the past five years. (Guardian)
  • Are robots the next big boon for human manufacturing jobs? (Time)
  • Robot competition in factories may bring us closer to same-day delivery. (Wired)

Curiosity Finds Evidence of Water on Mars
28 September 2012
By Stephanie Levy

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has struck liquid gold. Sort of. The robot found evidence of an ancient flowing stream on the surface of the Red Planet.

Huffington Post

Navy Cultivates Fire Scout Experts During Deployment
By Stephanie Levy
27 September 2012

Northrop Grumman

In August, U.S. Navy personnel from a detachment using Northrop Grumman’s Fire Scout returned home. But the expertise in unmanned aircraft they bring back with them could have long-reaching implications for the use of unmanned air vehicles, particularly the Fire Scout, in military theater.

“Operating and maintaining a UAV is different than flying a manned aircraft, and it takes a different mindset,” says Navy reservist Lt. Chris Shams, the detachment's assistant officer in charge. “We definitely had a bit of a learning curve every time we transitioned personnel. Our team had to get up to speed very quickly on how to use this system to support critical missions for our customer.”

Now that the detachment is stateside, it will revert back to a government-owned, contractor-operated unit in alignment with the government’s policy on reduction of the military footprint in Afghanistan. The skills Navy personnel gained during this deployment will help other units.

For instance, Lt. Cmdr. David Avery, a Navy reservist and former pilot who was the detachment unit’s officer in charge while using Fire Scout, is now serving as an aerospace engineering duty officer in the Navy Reserve. He said in a press release that he hopes to support the program office in the testing and evaluation of the new MQ-8C model and support the systems engineering team.

“Reservists are being utilized at Webster Field and a few are transitioning to one of the shipboard attachments where Fire Scout is being tested overseas,” he said.

Bordeaux Bot Helps Out in Vineyards
27 September 2012

Meet Wall-Ye V.I.N., a two-armed robot designed to help produce wine. Specifically, Wall-Ye V.I.N. can prune vines and remove unproductive young shoots. The robot will undergo tests at Bordeaux’s Chateau Mouton-Rothschild vineyard.


Toyota Showcases Support Robot for Homebound Users
27 September 2012


Toyota unveiled a prototype for its Human Support Robot, a one-arm robot designed to help the elderly and people with disabilities with tasks around the home, on 21 Sept. The 70-pound robot has a telescopic body, and its arm has a two-fingered gripper.


Diaoyu Islands Become Patrol Grounds for Chinese UAVs
27 September 2012

China says it will deploy unmanned aircraft to monitor the Diaoyu Islands, a disputed territory between China and Japan. The uninhabited islands are east of China, but Japan retains control over them.


Virginia Tech Opens Unmanned Vehicles Research Lab
27 September 2012

Virginia Tech opened the Kentland Experimental Aerial Systems Laboratory, shared by the College of Engineering and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, which will be used to develop advanced technology for unmanned air and maritime vehicles. According to the Associated Press, the 2,000-square-foot lab is poised to help students and faculty members use unmanned systems to solve a slew of civil and commercial problems, from preventing the spread of airborne plant pathogens to creating high-tech submarines.

The Republic

Modern Day Marine 2012: Civilian Focus Reigns at Military Affair
By Danielle Lucey
26 September 2012

The unmanned systems and robotics companies on display at this year’s Modern Day Marine, held this week in Quantico, Va., geared up for a potential looming civil market despite the show’s decidedly military slant.

Lockheed Martin showed its small UAS, Procerus, which shares its name with the company Lockheed purchased this past January. What makes the system unique is it can fly for 55 minutes, a fairly long endurance for a quadrotor, said Bill Daly, business development for the company. Lockheed flew the system in the Air Demo area at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012.

“The most common comment I picked up from the audience was how quiet it was,” he said.

Procerus flies with the Kestrel v3 autopilot, the only company that currently uses that system. The UAS runs with Lockheed-made sensors and a hand control unit. The system is backpackable — useful for both a Marine and first responders.

“If it’s manpackable, you can launch it when you need it for law enforcement,” said Daly. “They could just open up the trunk and use it when they need it.”

The system has a downrange ability up to 8 kilometers and can fly in winds up to 20 mph.

If the system were sold to law enforcement, Daly said it would likely be a deal that included more than just the platforms, also including training, a field repair kit and the option to send it back to Lockheed for more extensive repairs, just like the company does with its military customers.

The system would also be much cheaper than flying a helicopter and could add many flight hours to the maintenance lifespan of larger law enforcement aircraft.

Mistral Group displayed its sensors, also useful for both Marine and law enforcement use. The company’s EyeBall R1 camera kit is a throwable camera ball that, once deployed can survey a room to gain situational awareness.

Though the system can be used for SWAT teams, the company modeled the camera after a grenade, with a pull pin serving as the on and off switch — useful since many law enforcement personnel have a military background, said the company’s General Manager Jim Griffin.

The EyeBall also has a microphone, so the operator can listen in on a room or area.

“It’s another way of putting more eyeballs on a situation to keep officers safe,” he said.

Oshkosh Defense discussed the company’s continued work with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, perfecting the large Terramax unmanned ground vehicle with recent tests in Pennsylvania, following up on work done in August at Fort Pickett.

The Fort Picket and Gascola test site locations saw Terramax perform logistical missions in a convoy format. For safety, Oshkosh keeps a human behind the wheel, though they don’t interact with the vehicles’ driver interfaces.

“At Fort Pickett — it was kind of funny — I realized we had people walk away and think we had drivers in it,” said John Bryant, vice president and general manager of Joint and Marine Corps Programs for Oshkosh.

While Oshkosh awaits the next move by its customer, Bryant said the company continues to refine and add flexibility to Terramax, and the company is capable of moving the technology to fit its other customers at the same time.

Army Calls Up More STARLite Radars for Gray Eagle Fleet
By Danielle Lucey
26 September 2012

Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman has been contracted to supply an additional 44 STARLite wide-area surveillance radars to the U.S. Army for its MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAS fleet. The systems are a follow on and bring the total number of systems ordered to 174.
STARLite uses synthetic aperture radar, ground moving target indicator and dismount moving target indicator to perform tactical reconnaissance missions. The 65-pound radars will be delivered beginning in April 2013 through March 2014.
"This order reaffirms the Army's confidence in STARLite’s exceptional reliability, which has far exceeded specifications during its deployment," says Steve McCoy, vice president for tactical sensor solutions at Northrop Grumman. "STARLite’s record of performance means warfighters on the ground can count on it to provide the airborne intelligence they need in critical situations."
The Army has also used STARLite on its Persistent Threat Detection Systems airship, in a June 2011 demonstration at Yuma Proving Grounds.
At AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012, Northrop Grumman pitched a smaller variant of STARLight to the U.S. Army, weighing 20 pounds less. The new system would have an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, which also cuts down on power.

Driving Force: California Passes Self-Driving Car Legislation at Google Headquarters
By Danielle Lucey
25 September 2012

On 25 Sept. California Gov. Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr. signed a bill into law in his state, clearing the way for continued efforts by homegrown company Google to dominate self-driving car research and development.

At an event hosted at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Brown highlighted California’s role as a frontrunner in new ideas and a pioneering spirit.

“This is a place where new ideas, risk and imagination come together to really build the future, and that’s our legacy,” he said.

Brown called the bill science fiction turned reality, but that California, despite its many financial issues lately, is still the epicenter of this kind of imagination.

“We’re looking at a design change, and when you try to go forward facing a lot of obstacles you can’t make it going on instructions from the past.”

Alex Padilla, California state representative of Los Angeles, who wrote the bill, SB 1298, called the bill a legislator’s dream, tackling saving lives, creating jobs and easing pollution all at once.

“We’re here to celebrate that we’re stepping on the accelerator when it comes to the Google car.”

Google representative Sergey Brin, who gave his presentation wearing another cutting-edge Google product, Google Goggles, discussed the many ways driverless cars could help those currently underserved by the United States’ transportation system. For people like the blind and those with disabilities, self-driving cars are “really enabling huge classes of people who were previously trapped … to get around the world,” he said.

Brin also foresees the day when self-driving cars will eliminate traffic and change the urban landscape, ridding it of the eyesore of parking lots.

He said, however, that safety is Google’s top priority.

“We spend night and day fretting about all sorts of rare possibilities, and I’m optimistic were going to be able to solve these issues,” he said, adding he suspects that one day self-driving cars will be the safer option.

The bill is one of many that have surfaced in the United States recently. Nevada became the first state to pass a driverless car bill on 1 March. As recently as 19 Sept. a driverless car bill was proposed for the District of Columbia.

The bill is a bit of a formality for California: Google has been operating in the state since 2010 and as of August 2012 has driven 480,000 miles, the lion’s share in California.

U.S. Armed Forces Demo JLENS for Defeating Antiship Cruise Missiles
By Stephanie Levy
25 September 2012


The U.S. Army and Navy recently completed tests with Raytheon’s JLENS sensor system. The tests proved that the JLENS package can be used to defeat antiship cruise missiles and that the branches could integrate it with current defense systems. Once integrated, JLENS would provide sea-based overland cruise missile defense for the first time.

During the tests, JLENS fire-control radar acquired and tracked a surrogate antiship cruise missile target. Sailors got information from the sensor via Raytheon’s Cooperate Engagement Capability sensor-netting system, and then fired a missile at the target.

"JLENS has demonstrated its ability to integrate with other components of Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air, significantly expanding the force's cruise missile defense umbrella," says Dean Barten, the U.S. Army's JLENS product manager. "Commanders can detect threats shortly after they are launched with JLENS’ 360-degree, long-range surveillance capability, while the JLENS-integrated fire-control radar enables commanders to more effectively employ weapons like the Standard Missile Six."

Advocates Weigh in on Domestic UAS Use
25 September 2012

As unmanned aircraft technology continues to advance, and its use domestically expands, there has been a lot of discussion over how this technology should be used by civilian agencies, with specific respect to individuals’ privacy.

This has translated to a slew of bills on Capitol Hill, writes Tim Adelman for The Hill. After the president signed into law the FAA reauthorization in February 2012, which paved the way for UAS integration into the national airspace, Congress has introduced legislation to burden and restrict the use of unmanned aircraft, making the argument that the systems compromise citizens’ privacy.
“Anytime a new technology emerges, there can and should be reasonable debate over how it is used. Unmanned aircraft are no different,” according to Adelman. But “not only do some of these proposed bills seem to ignore established precedent, they also make the mistake of limiting law enforcement agencies’ ability to use unmanned aircraft for dangerous or difficult missions that have no tie to privacy.”

John Villasenor, nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, echoes the sentiment in a piece for Forbes. Specifically, he says domestic UAS hold water against the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee that people “be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches.” This amendment, along with Supreme Court cases that outline how and when warrants should be acquired when law enforcement conducts a search via aircraft, offers civilians significant protections.

“In the aggregate, these rulings provide cause for optimism that, with respect to government UAV observations, the Fourth Amendment will be reasonably protective,” Villasenor writes. “Whether it will be sufficiently protective is a different question, and one well worth attention.”

In Texas, James Harris, president of AUVSI’s Lone Star Chapter, argues that the state is poised to boost its economy and create jobs by embracing the UAS industry. On 21 Sept., he wrote in the Houston Chronicle that Texas is already a pioneer for real-world applications of unmanned aircraft.

“The Arlington Police Department is testing and developing this technology for specific missions such as search and rescue, natural disaster recovery and documenting crime scenes. These systems provide much of the capability of a traditional manned aircraft at a fraction of the cost, saving taxpayer dollars,” he writes.

The public discourse around UAS use by law enforcement is also translating to public action. Recently, the International Chiefs of Police released guidelines, supported by the ACLU, for the use of unmanned aircraft by law enforcement agencies.

SARTRE Autonomous Vehicle Train Project Completed
25 September 2012

Volvo, along with its European partners, completed its Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project, successfully showing the potential for platooned traffic, with cars autonomously following each other on the highway. The concept is a step towards a future where drivers let robots "take the wheel."

NBC News

AUVSI Praises State-Based Effort to Move Unmanned Aircraft Technology Forward
25 September 2012

Aerospace States Association Calls on FAA to Advance Test Site Program That Could Bring Jobs and Economic Investment to States

AUVSI applauded the Aerospace States Association’s (ASA) call on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to move forward with its Congressionally-mandated program to establish six test sites for the development of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

In a letter to FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, chairman of ASA, asked that the program move forward “without further delay” so as to avoid “losing ground in an industry poised to deliver on job creation.”

The test site program was included in legislation signed into law in February 2012, which, in part, requires the FAA to plan for the integration of UAS into the national airspace by 2015. However, the FAA missed a key program benchmark, when it failed to establish the test site program by 12 Aug. 2012. About 30 states have expressed interest in applying, and have already invested funding, time and effort in preparation to respond to the FAA’s anticipated announcement.

Michael Toscano, AUVSI president & CEO, released the following statement in response to ASA’s letter:

“We applaud ASA for continuing its work to ensure the U.S. remains a global leader in aerospace technology and help our industry create jobs. Not only will integrating UAS into the airspace help firefighters battle wildfires, search and rescue teams find missing persons and scientists research everything from hurricanes to wildlife, it will lead to quality, high-paying jobs for pilots, engineers, instructors, technicians and many others. The FAA test site program is critical to a safe and responsible integration, as well as bringing jobs and economic investment to the recipients of the test site designation. The FAA should open the site selection process without delay so we can move this technology forward while creating jobs.”

Kairos Autonomi Introduces Teleop-Only Kit for Unmanned Training Operations
By Stephanie Levy
24 September 2012

Kairos Autonomi will debut its teleoperation-only kit, which converts a manned vehicle into an unmanned moving ground target, at an NDIA conference in Orlando, from 2-4 October. The company says the kit meets the demand for a cost-effective, teleop-only kit that can be used in a destructive test or training requirement.

Upgrades to the teleop kit include GPS path following, vehicle deconfliction and supervised autonomy capabilities. The kit comes preloaded with software and a built-in CPU, controlling the steering, transmission, brake and throttle actuation through a radio data link. It can include additional features such as alternative radio frequencies and video capability. The kit works best on vehicles operating at speeds greater than 90 mph, which the company says gives the operator the maneuverability to adjust route and speed with minimal time and effort.

“Destructive test and training needs a low-cost teleop option for on-demand and dynamic movements,” says Chandler Griffin, director of the Targets Programs at Kairos Autonomi. “This kit was created to meet those demands for destructive training and weapons testing.”

Weekend Robotics Roundup
21 September 2012

  • Air Vehicles Integrated Design (AVID) is working with Virginia Tech to develop a flying robot the size of a soccer ball. (Daily Press)
  • The Helios system turns your iPhone into a telepresence robot. (Technablob)
  • The Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate has provided funds to develop a UUV designed to resemble a tuna, called BIOSwimmer. (TruthDive)
  • The U.S. Army is working with academic institutions to obtain independent research to advance UAV technology and usage. (UPI)

Grishin Invests $250,000 in Double Robotics' Telepresence Platform
By Stephanie Levy
21 September 2012

Grishin announced it will invest $250,000 in a telepresence robot by Double Robotics. Grishin is looking to spend a total of $25 billion funding robotic startup companies.


Sikorsky Challenges Small Business to Create Groundbreaking Technology
By Stephanie Levy
20 September 2012

Sikorski Aircraft Corp. announced in August that its technology development wing, Sikorsky Innovations, launched its second Entrepreneurial Challenge competition. The goal of the competition is to identify and accelerate the development of emerging, revolutionary technologies in aerospace.

This year, the companies entering the challenge — which must be small companies with revenue less than $5 million — must develop technology around five challenge questions that primarily target the aerospace market as an initial customer. But Sikorsky said in a press release that the challenges posed by these questions could have broader applications in other markets. The challenge questions are available on the Sikorsky Innovation site. A subset of the applicants that apply to the challenge will be invited to participate in a final round at Sikorsky’s headquarters in Stratford, Conn.

As in the last challenge, every winning team will receive one year rent-free space utilization within the new Stamford Innovation Center, a state-of-the-art incubator where teams will have free access to all services and programs offered by the center. In addition, each team will participate in a three-month-long Sikorsky education program, designed to provide targeted technical and business strategy guidance. Each winning entity will be assigned a technical mentor and receive access to the full body of Sikorsky technical experts and business professionals.

cmRobot Launches All-Terrain UGV
By Stephanie Levy
20 September 2012

CmRobot announced the release and delivery of the Element UGV, a rugged all-terrain unmanned ground vehicle platform. In a press release, cmRobot’s President and CEO Rami Morris said “colleges, universities and technical institutions worldwide” would use the system.

The Element UGV boasts an onboard dual-core computer, GPS, a pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) network camera, three 180-degree coverage ultrasonic range finders and WiFi connectivity. The system has nine degrees of freedom, as well as an open-source .NET library. Six motors, one for each wheel, drive the UGV in both indoor and outdoor environments.

“The integrated high-definition [720 pixel] PTZ camera and three short/long range ultrasonic range finders provide the onboard computer or remote operator detailed information of the surrounding areas,” said Guy Cefalu, product architect and CTO at cmRobot, in a press release.

NASA's Global Hawks Migrate to the East Coast, Fly Into Trouble
By Brett Davis
19 September 2012

NASA Global Hawk 

Most people like to spend as little time as possible around hurricanes. That’s not the case for a NASA-Northrop Grumman joint venture, which is flying ex-Air Force Global Hawk aircraft around and above hurricanes to better understand their movements.

In fact, NASA has just relocated the Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) mission from balmy but hurricane-distant California to Virginia’s coastal Wallops Island, where the high-flying unmanned aircraft can spend as many as 20 hours at a time studying storms. Before, the aircraft would have to transit across the entire United States to reach storm areas, lessening its useful air time.

“With this aircraft … taking off from Wallops, we can spend up to 20 hours over a storm in the western Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and parts of the Caribbean,” says Scott Braun, the HS3 principal investigator, based at Goddard Space Flight Center, Md. “We can also get all the way out to the coast of Africa and spend about 6 to 12 hours on station over a storm. That’s just not something you can do with a manned aircraft. … Here we’re doubling or tripling what you’re able to do with manned aircraft.”

HS3 is a $30 million, five-year program that builds on earlier NASA studies, including the Genesis and Rapid Intensification (GRIP) mission, which also relied on NASA’s two Global Hawks (for more on GRIP, see the May 2012 issue of Unmanned Systems).

The new HS3 mission kicked off on 7 Sept., when the first Global Hawk flew from Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to Wallops, pausing along the way to spend 10 hours collecting data on Hurricane Leslie.

That vehicle is AV-6, which carries the environmental payload, consisting of the Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System (AVAPS), a machine that can dispense up to 89 dropsondes per flight to study temperature, pressure, wind and humidity; the Scanning High Resolution Infrared Sounder, which studies thermal radiation; and the Cloud Physics Lidar, which uses a laser to measure cloud structure and depth.

The second vehicle, AV-1, will carry what’s called the “over storm” payload, which includes a Hurricane Imaging Radiometer, a High Altitude Imaging Wind and Rain Airborne Profiler and a High Altitude Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit Sounding Radiometer, which will measure the liquid water in clouds along with temperature and water profiles. AV-1 is expected to arrive at Wallops as early as next week.

Ramesh Kakar, NASA’s weather focus area lead in the Earth Science Division, says the instruments on board the aircraft are “state of the art instruments. Many of them are almost satellite quality.”

The first full-on science mission undertaken by HS3 began on 11 Sept. with a study of tropical storm Nadine, which at one point was a weak hurricane. On 19 Sept., NASA hosted a media day at Wallops Island, where reporters watched AV-6 take off to head back to Nadine. The storm is puzzling, because it has been buffeted by wind shear, which tends to weaken storms, and it’s now over colder waters near the Azores, which should also slow it down.

“And yet this storm continues to spin out there as a tropical storm … so we want to look at how this storm is able to maintain itself despite these very adverse conditions,” Braun says.

Space for UAS at Air & Space 2012
By Stephanie Levy
19 September 2012

At the Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference 2012, held 17-19 Sept. in Maryland, unmanned systems for military use had a growing presence on the show floor.

According to Christopher Pehrson, director of strategic development for General Atomics, this has to do with the persistence, precision, modularity, dynamism, risk mitigation and cost effectiveness of unmanned air systems. Pehrson outlined these advantages in a presentation on the show floor Wednesday.

“Combining all these distinctive features into a single weapons system has proven to be game changing,” he said.

At the show, Rockwell Collins announced it had been selected as the prime contractor of an unmanned air vehicle for DARPA’s High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems program. The goal is to develop cyber security solutions for UAVs and other military vehicles.

Also, BAE Systems announced it has installed its Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System on a UAV for the first time. The U.S. Navy will use the APKWS on board Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8B Fire Scout. BAE makes the guidance section of the laser-guided rocket.

The company says the system is being integrated onto the Fire Scout in response to an urgent operational need and is being prepared for rapid deployment. BAE will support the integration by performing system analyses and modeling based on its high-fidelity integrated flight simulator.

NASA Funds Robotics Projects on Bleeding Edge of Space Exploration
19 September 2012


NASA officials announced the agency would award $2.7 million to eight advanced robotics projects, with the goal of advancing space exploration efforts.

NBC News

Anti-Spoofing Goes Micro
By Danielle Lucey
18 September 2012

Rockwell Collins

For the first time, a micro UAV will be outfitted with a secure and jam-resistant GPS, ensuring a tightly controlled connection that cannot be hacked.

AeroVironment has partnered up with Rockwell Collins to use the company’s MicroGRAM GPS receiver on AeroVironment’s digital datalink Wasp UAS. The digital link version of the aircraft was released in May, adding to AeroVironment’s transition of all its UAS away from analog communications.

“Having secure GPS significantly reduces the possibility that the Wasp AE can be jammed or spoofed,” says Dave Schreck, director of UAS and Control Technologies for Rockwell Collins.

The 7-gram GPS receiver, released in early 2011, is 90 percent smaller than its predecessor product, according to Rockwell Collins, allowing it to fly on 1.3 kilogram Wasp AE. The receiver is an addition to Rockwell Collins’ Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Module technology line of GPS. MicroGRAM can also be used on handheld radios, ruggedized field computers and laser range finders. The company released a follow-on product at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012 that allows for real-time kinematic anti-spoofing GPS reception.

Weekend Roundup
14 September 2012

  • Startup company Tovbot has debuted Shimi, a personal robot DJ. (CNet)
  • Researchers at the University of Aberdeen are developing software that will allow robots to "talk" to people. (BBC)
  • Cassidian plans to conduct a fourth round of testing on its Barracuda UAV. (Flightglobal)
  • NASA flew a Global Hawk UAS from California to Virginia for the first time, as part of the month-long Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) mission. (Sacramento Bee)

New Systems, New Members at Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus Technology and Science Fair
By Stephanie Levy
13 September 2012

Industry leaders from more than one dozen companies turned out for Thursday's Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus Technology and Science Fair.

In his remarks to the crowd of about 70 people, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) pitched the idea of using American-made unmanned air systems to help Mexico fight deadly drug cartels.

"We've got to do a better job of working with [them] so [they] can locate the American technology we have," Cuellar said. "I think this will be good so the American public can see the jobs [unmanned systems] created."

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) also expressed interest in joining the Caucus. He said his district could use unmanned systems to fight wildfires in the area.

On the floor, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showcased its Emergency Integrated Life Saving Lanyard, or EMILY, unmanned surface vessel. EMILY is a 65-inch long USV that can be used to collect atmospheric data in the eye of a huricane, monitor maritime sanctuaries and study sea floor habitats and resources. In October, NOAA will use ten EMILY systems for testing off the Pacific Coast in the Channel Islands National Maritime Sanctuary. The goal is to use the USV to prepare for deployment for storms in late 2012 or in the 2013 hurricane season.

After the fair, AUVSI, along with Insitu and Northrop Grumman, hosted a Hill reception for members of Congress, their staff and industry leaders.

UAS Aid in Libyan Investigation
By Brett Davis
13 September 2012

CNN reports that unnamed, unmanned surveillance aircraft are being dispatched to Libya to aid in the search for those who killed four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya. Information from the UAS will be turned over to Libyan officials for strikes.

GA-ASI, Tesat Team on Laser Comms for UAS
By Brett Davis
13 September 2012

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems says it will team with the space-based laser communications company Tesat-Spacecom to develop systems to allow unmanned aircraft to communicate with satellites via lasers.

This will lead to much higher data rates that are jamming resistant, says Linden Blue, president of the company's Reconnaissance Systems Group.

“New sensors and increased RPA usage will create an increased bandwidth demand for RPA-to-ground communication in the near future, exceeding currently installed RF communication capabilities,” Blue says.

 “With the potential to increase data rates by 1,000 times, a lasercom link offers a next-generation alternative to radio satcom, and Tesat’s involvement with the U.S.-German program that has validated space-to-space and space-to-ground laser data links at very high data rates makes them the ideal partner for this new venture.”

Under the deal, GA-ASI will seek government support to demonstrate an optical laser subsystem and Tesat will support laser communications terminal systems engineering and deliver a data link controller to handle the data transfer.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems

Fury 1500 UAS Achieves Full Data Rate SATCOM Video Link
By Stephanie Levy
12 September 2012

AME Unmanned Air Systems announced on 4 September that their Fury 1500 UAS has become the first tactical UAS to downlink live video over satellite communications.

In addition, the company said in a press release that Fury's beyond-line-of-sight capability solidified its position as the longest-range tactical runway-independent UAS flying today. With BLOS, the Fury is able to support mission at distances previously impossible using tactically deployed unmanned systems.

"Now with BLOS we have blurred the line between tactical and strategic unmanned ISR without the need for a fixed runway," said John Purvis, President and CEO of AME UAS. "This is a huge win for the warfighter and intelligence community. The UAS can operate from almost anywhere with a minimal forward deployed crew. We feel Fury has a critical mix of capabilities for both now and in the foreseeable future."

AME Unmanned Air Systems

Video: DARPA's AlphaDog Learns New Tricks
By Stephanie Levy
12 September 2012


Check out this video of DARPA's AlphaDog four-legged robot. Designed to haul supplies in rough terrain, the robot – formally known as the Legged Squad Support System (LS3) – was able to successfully obey instructions and follow people in a recent round of testing.


ILA Berlin: Euro Hawk Closes in on Final Approval
By Danielle Lucey
11 September 2012

Northrop Grumman is readying a final set of flight tests in preparation for delivering Euro Hawk to Germany’s military.

The first international variant of Global Hawk used by Europe, the Euro Hawk will fly in Germany, primarily out of Manching Air Base, to test sensor calibration, platform endurance, and the performance and acceptance of the ISIS mission system architecture.  The system has already performed many test flights, including for its sensor, safety and taxiing. The program is currently awaiting final certification and flight approval in Germany, with standards set by the German air force.

The program is a 50-50 venture between Northrop Grumman and EADS Deutschland GmbH, under the name Euro Hawk GmbH. EADS Deutschland, which is under the umbrella of Cassidian, is handling the project’s ground system and payloads.

To deliver the aircraft to Germany in 2011, Northrop had to arrange a special ferry flight from Edwards Air Force Base in California, flying out over the Pacific and through Canadian airspace to avoid the U.S.’s National Airspace System, a request made by the Federal Aviation Administration. For further flights in Germany, the company will operate at 47,000 feet, outside of commercial air traffic.

DoD Releases New Guidelines for UAS Sales
By Stephanie Levy
11 September 2012

On 5 September, the Department of Defense announced new guidelines that will allow 66 countries to buy American-made unmanned air systems, but did not name the countries on that list.

At IDEAA's ComDef 2012 in Washington, Richard Genaille, deputy director of the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said the guidelines come from a Defense department policy worked out last year. Ultimately, Congress and the State department will have the final say in implementing these proposed regulations.

After the announcement, Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush told Reuters he was happy the Obama administration had taken this "significant" step to boost arms exports, but that the regulations should be quickly codified into policy.

"I wish we were further along in getting that done. It's slow, it's painful, but we're doing the right things to move in that direction," Bush told Reuters.

Bush compared the need to reform export regulations for unmanned systems to the strict regulation of the U.S. commercial satellite business in the 1990s, which prompted other countries to develop their own technologies and ultimately best U.S. competition.

Warren Comer, Northrop Grumman's communications lead for the Global Hawk family of UAS, tells AUVSI that the company will follow the Department of Defense's lead in sales of UAS, adding that Northrop Grumman is very  interested in overseas sales.

"The systems that we have currently that we sell overseas have different restrictions on them," he said.

Northrop Grumman is interested in selling the Global Hawk internationally. Talk to sell the system to South Korea fizzled last year with no public explanation. The company says that Japan, Singapore and Australia are also interested in buying the aircraft.

In a December 2011 webinar for AUVSI, Flory Ellis, director of export management for the Aerospace Systems Sector at Northrop Grumman, explained that current export regulations for unmanned systems greatly depend on regulations set forth by International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which limits the proliferation of missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction and other related technology. UAS fall under these regulations by virtue of their ability carry certain weapons payloads.

You can download the webinar and Ellis's full presentation here. The webinar costs $75 for members, $199 for non-members.

Fujitsu to Build College-Bound Robot
By Stephanie Levy
10 September 2012

Fujitsu announced today that it's developing artificial intelligence "smart" enough to pass the math portion of the entrance exam for Japan's prestigious Tokyo University. The goal is to create a robot "tutor" for prospective students.


Weekend Roundup
7 September 2012
  • Video games help NASA control robots. (NBC News)
  • Engine failure caused the 14 April Predator UAS crash in Afghanistan. (Examiner)
  • The Heron UAS takes to the skies again for the Israeli air force after being grounded in January. (Flightglobal)

AeroVironment Receives $16.5 Million for Raven
By Stephanie Levy
7 September 2012


announced Wednesday that it received more than $16 million in additional funding from the U.S. Army for new RQ-11B Raven UAS. The contract calls for the delivery of the system, as well as new miniature gimbaled payloads and initial spares packages, to be completed by 30 June, 2013. In all, the contract is valued at $65 million.

The proposed new payload, the multi-axis Mantis i23, is compatible with existing Raven systems, and integrates an electro-optical and infrared video sensor for improved tracking capabilities. Mantis i23 replaces two separate sensor payloads on the original UAS.

“The Army is quickly and easily integrating the new miniature gimbaled payload into the Raven systems because of its reliability in providing superior imagery and tracking capability in harsh environments,” says Roy Minson, AeroVironment senior vice president and general manager, Unmanned Aircraft Systems. “We anticipate our new payload, an example of our focus on continuous and cost-effective capability enhancement for the warfighter, will become a standard component of currently fielded and future Raven systems.”

General Atomics Introduces Enhancements to Predator
By Stephanie Levy
7 September 2012

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems announced Wednesday the first successful flight of its Block 1-plus Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper, an upgrade to the nine-year old Block 1 Predator UAS. The next step for the UAS is a follow-on aircraft to the new Block 1-plus configuration, which General Atomics will designate as MQ-9 Block 5.

The company says the Block 1-plus Predator was designed for increased electrical power, secure communications, autonomous landing, increased gross takeoff weight, weapons growth and streamlined payload integration capabilities. The Block 1-plus Predator has a new high-capacity starter generator, which allows for the increased electrical capacity. Also, the upgraded electrical system includes a backup generator.

“We continue to enhance the capabilities of our aircraft, improving their performance to meet emerging customer requirements,” says Frank Pace, president of the Aircraft Systems Group at GA-ASI. “The first flight of the MQ-9 Block 1-plus follows in the footsteps of the aircraft’s combat-proven Block 1 configuration and is an important technological achievement that will provide increased effectiveness, increased multimission flexibility and even greater reliability.”

When General Atomics rolls out the Block 5 Predator UAS, it will include dual ARC-210 very-high-frequency/ultra-high-frequency radios with wingtip antennae, secure data links and an increased data transmission capacity. These upgrades will allow for simultaneous communications between multiple air-to-air and air-to-ground parties.

Ascent Solar, Silent Falcon, Bye Aerospace Team Up for Solar UAS
By Stephanie Levy
7 September 2012

Silent Falcon UAS

Ascent Solar Technologies announced a collaboration with Silent Falcon UAS Technologies and Bye Aerospace to add its copper-indium-gallium diselenide (CIGS) photovoltaics (PV) to Silent Falcon’s UAS. The overall goal of the collaboration is to allow the UAS to run on solar energy, says the company. Silent Falcon UAS Technologies unveiled their system in August at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012.

“Our collaboration on Silent Falcon represents a key strength of our product, namely that its lightweight and flexible nature can address multiple markets, from consumer electronics to building integrated PV, and that our manufacturing process is sufficiently agile to support them simultaneously,” says Ascent Solar President and CEO Victor Lee. “We see this emerging electric drone market expanding rapidly, with applications ranging from military to disaster relief, with rapid deployment and recovery with little risk to human life.”

Study: Driverless Cars Could Increase Highway Efficiency by 273 Percent
6 September 2012

Patcharinee Tientrakool / Columbia University

A new study presented by IEEE shows that cooperative self-driving cars could nearly triple highway efficiency.

NBC News

Construction to Begin on New BAMS Training Facilities
6 September 2012

NAVFAC Southeast

Construction on a BAMS Training Facility at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. is slated to start on 10 Sept. Northrop Grumman expects the $15 million project to be completed by December 2013.

The Florida Times-Union

MK3 Makes Successful Dive in the Gulf
6 September 2012

Schmidt Ocean Institute

The Global Explorer MK3 ROV reported a successful first dive around the Okeanos Ridge off Florida’s Gulf Coast. The ROV was able to capture stunning photos of coral and marine life.

Schmidt Ocean Institute

NASA Helps Hatch Robots for Drilling Oil Without Humans
6 September 2012


Norwegian company Robotic Drilling Systems AS is looking to leverage the robotic technology on NASA’s Curiosity rover to create robots that can autonomously drill for oil.

Bloomberg Businessweek

Students Learn From Correcting Robots
5 September 2012

Dumb robots lead to smarter kids. Seriously. A new study from the Socially Intelligent Machines lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta finds that students learn faster from correcting robots that make mistakes.


Q&A: iRobot Mesh, Tom Phelps, Unmanned Ground Vehicle Program Director
By Stephanie Levy
4 September 2012

At AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012, iRobot showed off its new Mesh software for UGVs. Tom Phelps, director of iRobot’s Unmanned Ground Vehicle Program, said Mesh would be rolled out on iRobot’s entire product family this year.

Q: How does Mesh work on current iRobot systems?

What the Mesh capability allows it to do is extend the line of sight so you can actually have the control unit connect to one [robot] and connect to the next [robot]. We also have Mesh interoperability between the SUGV and the 510. Mesh actually allows us to attack problems and prove solutions of interoperability between the products.

Q: How does Mesh contribute to the overall autonomy of iRobot systems?

This was our first baby step to getting autonomy fielded. We really focused on how autonomy can help close some of the mission gaps or basically enhance the capabilities of the robot system.

Q: How can Mesh be used in the commercial market?

We’re actually seeing demand from both markets. In industry, there are similar needs for perimeter security, building security or going into an environment that’s hazardous. You want to get a robot.

Q: What are the next steps to add greater autonomy to UGVs?

Right now, if you look at the progress of autonomy, we’re doing simple capabilities to aid the warfighter. The next step is to really reduce the mental and cognitive load the warfighter has to do during the mission. Instead of saying, “I have to focus on driving the robot from here to there,” you can tell the robot to drive there. It frees up the warfighter to do watch or other types of tasks on the way, or if they’re doing surveillance. Eventually this would progress to the point where the robot would be a member of the squad team.

Q: Do you see this autonomous technology transferring from the defense to the commercial sector?

It’s going to happen both ways. The commercial market is moving at a quicker pace in terms of the acceptance rate. Sensors, once they become commercial with reduced costs, they can be transferred to defense.

The consumer market can learn from the military in terms of approaching autonomy how it would from the safety standpoint. There’s collaboration on both sides; you see that in autonomy in vehicles being done in parallel on the commercial side with the military side.

Weekend Roundup
31 August 2012

  • Canada’s University of Victoria’s Centre for Aerospace Research is researching and developing UAVs for civil use. (Goldstream Gazette)
  • Robotic cars will hit the track at Thunderhill Raceway, 4-5 Sept. (ChicoER)
  • China has plans to build 11 UAVs to monitor coastal regions. (China Daily USA)
  • New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority gave Sycamore Ltd. permission to fly UAVs above the capital. (Radio Australia)
  • Dutch armed forces performed their first surveillance mission in support of NATO with ScanEagle of the coast of Somalia. (Flightglobal)

Mini Robots to Rescue Coral Reefs
By Stephanie Levy
31 August 2012

Murray Roberts,

Researchers at Heriot-Watt University have developed a swarm of intelligent “coralbots” that will piece together damaged bits of coral, with the goal of regrowing and saving endangered reefs. The robotic swarm approach mimics that of insects like bees that collectively build nests or other large structures.

“This project explores one of the most intriguing and impressive feats of natural swarm intelligence, whereby collections of simple-minded individuals collaborate to construct complex and functional structures,” says Heriot-Watt Professor David Corne. “Exactly how this happens is only partly understood, but scientists have several clues and ideas, and we will exploit these ideas to achieve reef reconstruction.”

Swarm robots have an added benefit to the project in that they reduce the engineering requirements for extremely robust robots. If one coralbot is damaged, there are many more that can complete the task. The robots are also easily deployed in emergency situations, such as when a hurricane or trawling damages a nearby reef.

Altavian Lands Five-Year Contract for Army UAS Program
By Stephanie Levy
31 August 2012

John H. Campbell, USACE

Altavian Inc. announced Monday that it was selected to continue working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District to support using UAS in civil works projects in Florida and Puerto Rico. This is the first time a UAS company has been awarded a federal contract in support of data deliverables using UAS technology, according to the company. Altavian says it will provide unmanned systems and deployment support for the project.

Specifically, Altavian will provide the USACE with its NOVA Block III UAS. In a press release announcing the deal, the company said this would ensure a low-cost method of getting high-precision geospatial data for applications in engineering and natural research management.

“We are using all of the leading technology — the latest sensors, unmanned aircraft design and data processing techniques — to deliver a state-of-the-art product,” said Altavian CEO John Perry in the release. “In doing so, we’ve created a solution that delivers a range of services for our clients’ diverse needs.”

Navy Breaks Ground for Two New Facilities at Webster Field
By Stephanie Levy
30 August 2012

Wednesday, the U.S. Navy held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new UAS facility at Webster Field Annex in Maryland. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operating Facility will support administration training, mission and flight operations, sustainment and equipment maintenance functions of the Maryland Army National Guard’s Tactical UAS.

The completed 10,000-square-foot operating facility will include an operational planning facility and a maintenance bay. There will also be supporting infrastructure including hangar aprons, vehicle parking, site and runway access roads, security lighting, fencing, and utilities. 

The U.S. Navy also started work on the new Special Communications Requirements Engineering Facility. It will provide additional workspace for the Special Communications Requirements Division to accommodate expanding communications work.

In all, both facilities will cost a total of $4.3 million, and should be completed in summer 2013.

U.S. Marines Test Manned-Unmanned Convoys With Robotic Trucks
By Stephanie Levy
30 August 2012

This August, the U.S. Marine Corps announced it had finished an experiment mixing robotic trucks into manned convoys. The mission, known as the Cargo Unmanned Ground Vehicle program, could eventually pave the way for expanded use of this teaming technology.

The goal of the Cargo UGV program was to determine if and how unmanned trucks could operate alongside manned vehicles in a convoy. As part of the program, Oshkosh Defense installed its TerraMax technology onto two vehicles for three limited technical assessments.

In the end, the autonomous trucks successfully stayed on the road, avoided obstacles, stayed in their lanes and maintained a constant speed, with top speeds reaching 35 mph. Capt. Warren Watts said the unmanned vehicles’ performance closely resembled human behavior behind the wheel. He also said the overall results of the project were positive.

"If we could take Marines out of those logistics vehicles and autonomize them, one, you reduce the amount of casualties you have, and two, you have more Marines to put in different places and to do different missions," Watts said at AUVSI Unmanned Systems North America 2012. "It becomes a logistics multiplier and a force multiplier."

CorPath 200 Gets to the Heart of Healthcare Robotics
By Stephanie Levy
30 August 2012

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently cleared Corindus’ CorPath 200 system to be used for treatment of coronary artery disease. Philips Healthcare will be the system’s exclusive distributor in the United States. CorPath 200 is the first robotic-assisted system for minimally invasive treatment of coronary artery disease.

Using the CorPath 200, doctors can use a robot to help with the placement of coronary guide wires and stents in coronary procedures. It consists of robotic drive and single-use cassette mounted on an articulating arm attached to the patient table. The system has an X-ray system that allows the physician to accurately visualize the stent’s progression during surgery. Physicians sit in front of the monitors that provide a view of the angiographic screen, and then perform the surgery remote via touchscreen and joystick controls.

Clinical trials show that the CorPath had a 100 percent success rate with no major adverse cardiac effects. Use of CorPath also lead to a 97.1 percent reduction in radiation exposure for the clinician.

Click here to download a PDF showing a comparison between traditional lab procedures and the CorPath.

Robotic ‘Shark’ Prowls the Arctic
29 August 2012

Researchers in Vancouver have developed a torpedo-like UUV that will be used to search for the final resting place of Sir John Franklin’s ships, which sank in the Arctic more than 160 years ago. Video after the jump shows the robot, dubbed Mano, in action.


Robots Improve Efficiency for Iowa Dairies
29 August 2012

Robots that milk cows are becoming more commonplace down on the farm in Iowa. Eight farms had theirs on display at the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s 2012 Automatic Milking Systems Tour this summer.

Sioux City Journal

Wave Glider Robot Takes on the Final Frontier in Hurricane Prediction
29 August 2012

At AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012, Liquid Robotics announced that it was sending one of its Wave Glider robots to Puerto Rico to track hurricanes for the first time. Now, that robot is helping to track Hurricane Isaac as it moves through the Gulf of Mexico.

IEEE Spectrum

FAA Delays Plans for UAS Test Sites
By Stephanie Levy
28 August 2012

The Federal Aviation Administration’s 12 Aug. deadline for establishing six nationwide UAS test sites came and went with no announcement. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 mandated those sites as part of the establishment of that pilot program to integrate UAS into the National Airspace System by 2015. In response, AUVSI President and CEO Michael Toscano sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Acting Administrator of the FAA Michael Huerta, urging them to still take action and open the site selection process.

“In addition to public uses, UAS have tremendous commercial potential as well,” Toscano writes. “The demand from both the public and commercial sector also means significant job creation potential here in the United States.” 

The FAA’s delay also has meaning for state test sites that were already developed in anticipation of the administration’s announcement. In August, Ohio launched the Ohio Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center and Test Complex, a $1.5 million testing center. Dick Honeywell, vice president of Aerospace for the Dayton Development Coalition, says the center is currently in the midst of looking at infrastructure needs to support an operational UAS test environment by January 2013.

“It’s our intent to provide the capabilities to allow the FAA to work out the critical technical issues, sense and avoid and others,” Honeywell says.

Now that the FAA has delayed the announcement of UAS test sites, officials with the Dayton Development Coalition say they’re trying to support the agency in developing the standards and capabilities for integration.

“Those [requests] sometimes go on a different timeline: They may be accelerated or they may be delayed,” says Joe Zeis, executive vice president and chief strategic officer for the Dayton Development Coalition. “The point of the test center is in some ways to be able to decouple that and still provide the services, provide the necessary developments of spectrum and airspace capabilities for the FAA to move forward.”

The state is also partnering with Indiana to seek FAA designation as one of the six nationwide test sites.

MicroStrain Introduces ENV-Link -Mini
By Stephanie Levy
28 August 2012
Today MicroStrain debuted its ENV-Link -Mini plug-and-play sensor for wireless environmental monitoring. The company says this new sensor streamlines monitoring, alerting and reporting on a cloud-enabled platform. It can be deployed for up to five years without replacing batteries and ensures 100 percent data reliability in normal operating circumstances, according to the company.

“With the new ENV-Link -Mini, users can quickly and cost-effectively establish custom environmental sensing networks,” the company said in a press release. “Miniature, multichannel wireless nodes support an array of sensor types for versatile configuration.”

On board the ENV-Link -Mini are four sensor channels. Users may select from environmental sensors such as solar radiation, soil moisture and leaf wetness; they can also add their own custom sensor. The ENV-Link -Mini also comes with a dedicated relative humidity and temperature channel.

Robot Hall of Fame Opens for Public Vote
By Stephanie Levy
27 August 2012

It's the other important election this fall: The eight-year-old Robot Hall of Fame is enlisting the help of the general public to decide its 2012 inductees. Voting is open through 30 September. 

Ars Technica

Weekend Roundup
24 August 2012

  • The U.S. Air Force Academy graduated its first student operators from the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper training course, instead of the traditional undergraduate pilot training. (Flightglobal
  • The Global Robotics Innovation Park commissioned a study of the value of robotics in the Minnesota economy. (Robotics Innovation
  • The U.S. Marine Corps is looking to use its K-Max UAS until September 2013, six months past the original deadline. (Aviation Today
  • British Columbia researchers will send another robot, Insight, to Mars in 2016, with the goal of determining what’s below the surface of the Red Planet. (Macleans on Campus)
  • DCS Corp. received a task order to provide advisory and assistance services for the Global Hawk UAS. (Shephard
  • UAS will fly over the Republican National Convention for the first time as a security measure. (Tampa Bay Online

iRobot Refines Inflatable Robotic Arm for Better Performance, Lower Costs
By Stephanie Levy
23 August 2012

IRobot is using a $625,000 contract from DARPA to upgrade its inflatable robotic arm, used for military applications. The company will work on improving the control and sensor functions on the arm.

The inflatable robot can lift up to four times its weight. By creating more pressure inside the arm, it can lift heavier objects.

IRobot created the arm as part of DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) Advanced Inflatable Robot (AIR) project. The goal of DARPA’s M3 AIR program is to find an effective, low-cost way to build robots for military applications. One of those possibilities is inflatable robotics. DARPA officials say these systems are cheap to manufacture and effective in the field.

MicroStrain Acquired by LORD Corp.
By Stephanie Levy
23 August 2012

LORD Corp. announced Tuesday that it had acquired sensor company MicroStrain Inc. MicroStrain’s founder and CEO Steve Arms says the two companies have worked together on multiple projects in the past.

MicroStrain will integrate its inertial and energy harvesting wireless sensors into LORD vibration control products. Then, both LORD and MicroStrain components will be able to push time-synchronized data online using MicroStrain’s SensorCloud. Ultimately, this new sensor package can be used on UAS, AUVs and industrial robots to aggregate operational data.

“Our organizations are well aligned, both from a strategic and a cultural perspective, and we’re excited to have access to the broad range of scientific, engineering and marketing expertise that has made LORD so successful,” says Arms.

Connected Vehicle Test Gets Underway
22 August 2012

Nearly 3,000 cars equipped with connected-vehicle communications technology have taken to the roads in the Ann Arbor, Mich., as part of the Department of Transportation’s Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Model Deployment Program. It’s the world's biggest field test of V2V and V2I technology. 



Robot Prints Buildings Out of Sand and Soil
22 August 2012


Four architecture students in Spain have developed a robotic 3-D printer that’s designed to turn dirt into chairs, walls and even full-blown bridges. Stone Spray combines sand or soil with a binding agent, and then sprays the mixture so that it forms a design of the architect’s choosing. 

Fast Company

DARPA Develops Unmanned Sub Hunters 

22 August 2012

Antisubmarine warfare is getting a robotic makeover from its Cold War heyday. DARPA awarded a contract to SAIC to develop AUVs to hunt submarines autonomously for months on end. It’s part of DARPA’s larger Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel program, which will combat the rising presence of diesel-electric submarines. 



Stanford Car Rips Up the Track
22 August 2012

Shelley, the driverless car pioneered by Stanford University, went for a spin on Thunderwood Raceway near Sacramento, Calif. Driverless Car HQ says the vehicle is just seconds away from breaking the track record. 

Driverless Car HQ


AUVSI Holds Largest Gathering of Unmanned Systems, Robotics Technology in the World
20 August 2012

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International turned the Mandalay Bay Convention Center into a robotics playground 6-9 August, when it brought together the largest display of unmanned systems and robotics technology in the world.

With more than 550 exhibitors and 7,400 attendees, AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012 highlighted the future of unmanned systems in military, civilian and commercial applications.

Highlights from the conference include affirmation for unmanned systems in life saving applications in the military; a commitment to integrate unmanned systems into the U.S. National Airspace System; and a pledge from the industry to work with government, civil liberties groups and others to ensure integration is done safely with respect to privacy.

Day one of the convention opened with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Acting Administrator Michael Huerta highlighting the progress his agency has made in working to integrate unmanned air vehicles into the national airspace.

Part of the framework to integrate UAS is moving ahead, he said, with the FAA due to soon ask for proposals to manage the upcoming six test sites still currently under selection.

“We need to make sure we use these sites to obtain the very best data that we possibly can,” he said.

The agency has also streamlined its certificate of authorization process, with the average non-emergency COA approval down to 60 days, and the FAA now provides two-year authorizations instead of one. This expedited process has been possible due to an internal reorganization that moved all the FAA’s unmanned work into its new Unmanned Aviation Systems Integration Office.

Though the agency has come a long way, Huerta said it still has more to go.

“We need to change the way we do business as well,” he said.

Huerta highlighted three core areas the FAA needs to work on: make the airspace system smarter and safer, bring technology benefits to the users, and task employees to think creatively and innovatively in a tight budget.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to move integration for all UAS forward, but I’m very, very optimistic that we will get there.”

Day two kicked off with an affirmation of the life saving capabilities of unmanned systems when Navy Seal Lt. Cmdr Rorke Denver addressed attendees.

Denver has seen action in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, and has made use of unmanned aircraft and unmanned underwater vehicles.

“The fact of the matter is … I have been a benefactor from the technologies and the things that have been developed” by the people in the room, he said.

He has thrown a Raven into the air, similar to a scene in the movie, and “I’ve had ScanEagle, Tiger Shark, all kinds of Predators above my head helping leverage those technologies in a way that protected my guys, it made us win on the battlefield when we might not have otherwise.”

He said he also made use of an unmanned underwater vehicle off the coast of Monrovia. 

“We’re in there with these lead lines and slates doing this classical SEAL UDT mission and this EMD guy comes walking up” with a vehicle that looks like a torpedo.

It was an unmanned underwater vehicle, “somebody probably made it in here,” he said. “You throw this thing in the water and it’s got side-scan radar … an hour later it pops onto the surface, we plug it into a laptop and up pops a map” and the team was able to plot its path.

“Just remarkable technology,” he said.

Chairman's Address

Finally, AUVSI Chairman of the Board Peter Bale promised attendees that the industry will, in time, figure out how to make these advances and respect all values.

“I don’t want to look back on the process of figuring this out and have regrets that we learned lessons with blood or scandal that could have been avoided,” Bale said. “The technology has arrived and is ready. That means it is time to figure out the public safety and civil rights issues.”

Bale went on to say, “The FAA test ranges and the window until September of 2015 represent our chance to get this right on the front end. None of us, in or out of government, are quite sure how this process will unfold but I am pledging this organization’s support and asking for your personal and professional assistance in answering these questions.  

“Parallel with the FAA test range process that figures out the flight safety procedures and standards, I want to ask the law enforcement, criminal justice and civil rights communities to use these three years to help sort out the civil rights issues. I am pledging myself and this organization to engage in a serious dialogue with any and all concerned.

“Politics does not have to be zero sum. This is not a choice between embracing technology or respecting deeply cherished values — we can do both. I look forward to the process and let’s get it right. There is too much at stake not to.”

SAVE THE DATE: AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2013 will be held in Washington, DC at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 12-15 August 2013.


AUVSI Applauds Police Chiefs for Adopting Guidelines for the Safe and Responsible Use of Unmanned Aircraft
16 August 2012

Today, AUVSI applauded the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) for adopting guidelines for the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The guidelines provide law enforcement agencies an outline of how to use UAS safely and responsibly, and with respect to individuals’ privacy. The adoption of the IACP guidelines follows the recent adoption of AUVSI’s “Code of Conduct” for those who design, test and operate UAS. 

“We applaud the IACP for putting forward these guidelines as part of law enforcement’s simultaneous commitment to protect communities, as well as the rights of the members of those communities,” said Michael Toscano, president and CEO of AUVSI. “Unmanned aircraft could help law enforcement agencies with missions such as search and rescue or crime scene photography, often at a lower cost than manned aircraft. The more the law enforcement community, privacy advocates, government and other stakeholders work together to address issues such as privacy, the faster we can unlock the incredible potential of unmanned aircraft to help save time, save money and most importantly, save lives.”

The IACP guidelines, which can be found here, cover community engagement, system requirements, operational procedures and image retention. They direct law enforcement agencies to engage with the community, specifically their governing body and civil liberties advocates, about how UAS will be used and protections put in place to uphold citizens’ rights. The guidelines also encourage notifying those living and working in the vicinity of aircraft operations, when possible. The guidelines call for a transparent implementation process for agencies desiring UAS, including a period of public comment.

The guidelines include specific steps law enforcement should take to respect the privacy of individuals:
• Where there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the (unmanned aircraft) will collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing and if the (unmanned aircraft) will intrude upon reasonable expectations of privacy, the agency will secure a search warrant prior to conducting the flight. 
• Unless required as evidence of a crime, as part of an on-going investigation, for training, or required by law, images captured by a UAS should not be retained by the agency.
• Unless exempt by law, retained images should be open for public inspection.

A poll conducted earlier this year by Monmouth University found strong public support for law enforcement’s use of UAS in search and rescue missions, tracking runaway criminals, protecting U.S. borders and controlling illegal immigration. Currently, however, fewer than 3% of law enforcement units have aviation assets because of the high operating costs of manned aircraft. UAS provide a cost-effective alternative. The Sheriff’s Office in Mesa County, Colo., operates an unmanned aircraft at the cost of $3.36 per hour, compared to $250 to $600 per hour for a manned aircraft. The purchase price of a UAS is also significantly less than a manned aircraft, costing about the price of a patrol car with standard police gear. The vast majority of UAS currently flying in the U.S. are small models that weigh less than 25 lbs and can fit in the trunk of a car.

Read more about how law enforcement agencies around the country are using UAS:
The New Eye in the Sky over Mesa County – 9News, Denver
Arlington PD Testing Unmanned Aircraft – KXAS, Dallas
Drones tested as tools for police and firefighters Los Angeles Times


Future of Autonomy, Operability at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012

By Stephanie Levy
9 August 2012

Thursday’s general session at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America focused on taking the military’s unmanned power to the next level.

Vice Adm. William R. Burke, deputy chief of Naval Operations Warfare Systems for the U.S. Navy, kicked off the conversation by sharing how the Navy is changing the way it thinks about unmanned systems capabilities. Now, he says, the Navy works to evolve with the speed of technology, instead of with a traditional seven- to 15-year platform timeline.

In the short run, Burke said the Navy is looking to UAS as a first step into a strong unmanned fleet, as well as USVs for mine hunting and clearance. But long term, the Navy is interested in unmanned maritime systems that can autonomously deploy from and return to Naval ships.

“If unmanned systems are front and center, they can contribute significantly to the warfight,” Burke said.

Lt. Gen Mary Legere of the U.S. Army said UAS would continue to be essential enablers for the Army. But their capabilities and operability have to evolve. Legere said she’d like to see multi-intelligence payloads for UAS and plug and play, “iPad easy” controls for the soldiers who use the systems.

“The soldiers understand what [UAS] are doing for their brothers and sisters and what it means to their commanders,” she said. 

As part of the general session, the AUVSI Foundation also handed out its awards for Chapter of the Year, the Outstanding Contributor Award and the Pioneer Award. The AUVSI Israel Chapter was recognized as Chapter of the Year; it is the largest AUVSI chapter outside the U.S. Ted Wierzbanowski of AeroVironment and Kazunori Kuromoto of Komatsu received the Outstanding Contributor Award and the Pioneer Award, respectively.

On the show floor, 80 students toured the booths and learned about robotics as part of the RoboTour program. AUVSI Foundation Executive Director Daryl Davidson said he hopes young people will use the experience, as well as the experience they gain in student robotics events, as a stepping stone to a future career in unmanned systems.

“The whole point of RoboTour is to give kids that ‘a-ha’ moment where they say, ‘I can do this for the rest of my life,’” Davidson said.

Also on the floor, iRobot showed off its new mesh capabilities for UGVs. Integrated on both its military and commercial platforms, mesh allows operators to extend communication between multiple robots. Mesh works across platforms like iRobot’s FirstLook, 310 SUGV and 510 PackBot robots.

“Mesh actually allows us to attack problems and provide solutions of interoperability between the products,” said Director of UGV Product Management Tom Phelps.

IRobot also has its AwareHead technology in the prototype phase. AwareHead is a sense-and-avoid technology that helps the robot autonomously detect and maneuver around static obstacles.

History and Hollywood at Day Three of AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012
By Brett Davis and Stephanie Levy
8 August 2012

A high-profile end user of unmanned systems addressed AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012 on Wednesday: Lt. Cmdr. Rorke Denver, a Navy SEAL and star of the new film “Act of Valor.”

Denver has seen action in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, and has made use of unmanned aircraft and unmanned underwater vehicles.

“The fact of the matter is … I have been a benefactor from the technologies and the things that have been developed” by the people in the room, he said.

He has thrown a Raven into the air, similar to a scene in the movie, and “I’ve had ScanEagle, Tiger Shark, all kinds of Predators above my head helping leverage those technologies in a way that protected my guys, it made us win on the battlefield when we might not have otherwise.”

He said he also made use of an unmanned underwater vehicle off the coast of Monrovia. Denver said he had been planning a typical SEAL mission to map a coastline when

“We’re in there with these lead lines and slates doing this classical SEAL UDT mission and this EMD guy comes walking up” with a vehicle that looks like a torpedo.

It was an unmanned underwater vehicle, “somebody probably made it in here,” he said. “You throw this thing in the water and it’s got side-scan radar … an hour later it pops onto the surface, we plug it into a laptop and up pops a map” and the team was able to plot its path.

“Just remarkable technology,” he said.

Looking Back

USAF Lt. Col. (ret.) Harold A Smith, one of the original founders of AUVSI, gave the audience on overview of some early systems that saw operational use in the early 1970s.

These systems, based on target drones, proved capable of both reconnaissance and strike missions, he said, prompting a group of Air Force officials to form the National Association of Remotely Piloted Vehicles in 1972 in Ohio.

The high-profile shoot-downs of U2 manned aircraft led to the decision to try to use unmanned systems, Smith said.

“When Gary Powers got shot down, it marked the end of an era and the beginning of another era,” he said. “In 1972 we started the National Association of Remotely Pilot Vehicles in Dayton. And look what it’s become.”

Robotics Trends

Wednesday’s Robotics Trends Workshop: Commercial Market Applications for Unmanned Systems focused on how to make commercial robotics more successful.

And those ideas don’t always mesh with the military approach to robotics.

“There are two different thought processes between government and commercial robotics,” said Young Kim of BOSH Precision Agriculture. Kim says while the military is more focused on product outcomes, “To be successful in the commercial sector an organization needs to be built around delivering those economical goals.”

Cory Clothier and TARDEC are trying to bridge that gap. TARDEC recently started work on the ARIBO project, which is a learning laboratory where military opportunities could translate to solving commercial problems. ARIBO is currently in its strategy-teaming phase, with projects at U.S. military bases starting in 2014. 

“We would like to be a universal test bed for innovation,” Clothier said.

Sometimes, it takes a disruptive event for disruptive technology to come into focus. That’s what happened in 11 March, when the Great East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent disaster at the Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear plant made manned response ineffective and dangerous. QinetiQ responded by sending six robots to help respond to the disaster.

“We found out … unmanned platforms – whether they be air, ground, subsurface or maritime – they have a role to play,” said QinetiQ’s Charlie Dean. “They may not serve all capabilities, they may not solve all problems, but they certainly have a role to play in emergency response.”


FAA’s Huerta on UAS Integration: ‘We Will Get There’
By Danielle Lucey
7 August 2012

The first day of general sessions and exhibition began today at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America with an address to the community from Acting Administrator Michael Huerta of the Federal Aviation Administration, who highlighted the progress his agency has made in working to integrate unmanned air vehicles into the national airspace.

Part of the framework to integrate UAS is moving ahead, he said, with the FAA due to soon ask for proposals to manage the upcoming six test sites still currently under selection.

“We need to make sure we use these sites to obtain the very best data that we possibly can,” he said.

The FAA had more than 200 comments on site selection and had more than 500 people attend each of two webinars it hosted on the issue.

The agency has also streamlined its certificate of authorization process, with the average non-emergency COA approval down to 60 days, and the FAA now provides two-year authorizations instead of one. This expedited process has been possible due to an internal reorganization that moved all the FAA’s unmanned work into its new Unmanned Aviation Systems Integration Office.

Though the agency has come a long way, Huerta said it still has more to go.

“We need to change the way we do business as well,” he said.

Huerta highlighted three core areas the FAA needs to work on: make the airspace system smarter and safer, bring technology benefits to the users, and task employees to think creatively and innovatively in a tight budget.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to move integration for all UAS forward, but I’m very, very optimistic that we will get there.”

Leslie Cary, secretary for the International Civil Aviation Organization, spoke to the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Group’s work on creating regulations and implementing procedures for unmanned aircraft.

The focus has to be on facilitating technologies that allow industry to flourish and let society benefit from the use of UAS, she said. Though some people think working on regulations for aviation seems boring, “when it comes to unmanned aviation it’s really fascinating.”

The Chicago Convention, which details airspace, aircraft registration and safety rules for manned aviation, will be challenged with unmanned systems, she said. “It’s a challenging, tedious, convoluted, yet amazingly creative undertaking.”

The UAS Study Group’s standards will go into place on 15 Nov., with an early 2014 guidance manual to follow.

“We need to have a vision of where aviation will be 30, 50 or even 100 years from now,” she said.

Nevada’s Brig Gen. William Burks also spoke at the morning general session. He discussed how society will handle the upcoming unmanned revolution and how his state is spearheading technological acceptance.

“What people don’t know they usually fear,” yet many of the issues people have are the same kind of fears when hot air balloons and general aviation aircraft were introduced, he said.

“The real risk is not the camera — it’s the irresponsible people using these systems in irresponsible ways.”

He discussed a few court cases that guard against any privacy concerns, and said the industry should continue to gain public trust through the many potential uses of UAS, like fire fighting, power line inspection and weather monitoring. GPS spoofing concerns can also be accordingly assuaged, he said.

“There’s enough brain power in this room and down on the show room floor that all of the problems with UAVs can be dealt with successfully,” he said.

Burks called Nevada, home of Creech Air Force Base, the “center of UAVs,” and said the state’s permission to allow driverless car licenses puts it at the forefront of unmanned technology.

“Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier,” he said.

AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012 Kicks Off
By Brett Davis
6 August 2012

AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012 kicked off on Monday, 6 Aug. with a variety of panels and workshops focusing on all domains of unmanned systems, from driverless cars to maritime systems to unmanned aircraft.

One workshop focused on using unmanned aircraft for public safety, including by police and fire fighters. Moderator Leonard Ligon noted that there are nearly 20,000 municipalities in the United States but only about 300 have aviation assets of any kind, fewer still with unmanned aircraft.

“Less than 8 percent of the United States right now has an aviation asset,” he said. That means opportunity for unmanned aircraft, as public safety officials think, “I can now have access to an asset that was never available to me in the past.”

However, he and other speakers warned that UAS training courses are sometimes not sufficient, and sometimes don’t take into account the needs of police or other public safety officials. Panelist said public safety officials who want to set up a UAS operation should look to outside agencies for help and support, including AUVSI, the Department of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Systems Integration Office.

Douglas Gillespie, the sheriff of Clark County, home county to Las Vegas, warned that “if you don’t put the time and effort into the policies and procedures that are developed, and you don’t take the time to be transparent and open in those policies and procedures that are developed, you in fact will be that department … that will create those bad facts that will end up in court and then we will all have to live with the decisions that the courts make based on that case law.”

Gillespie said his office doesn’t have any unmanned aircraft, but would like to for a number of reasons, including to search for illicit marijuana crops without the expense of a manned helicopter.

Before unmanned aircraft operations become routine, they have to be integrated into the airspace of the United States and other countries around the world. Gerry Sayer, a former AUVSI president who has worked on airspace issues with the U.S. Air Force, described many efforts around the world to develop sense and avoid technology, a key enabler for routine safe flight.

“We’ve got to get the standards we can certify against so people will accept it,” he said. “But I do believe we can make it a reality this decade if all of you can participate.”

Driverless Car Summit Follow-Up Session

Despite AUVSI’s Driverless Car Summit only a mere two months in the rear window, a follow-on session at AUVSI’s annual conference revealed new workings in the emerging industry.

BMW’s Darren Liccardo discuss the company’s work on integrating its lane keeping and blind spot detection capabilities into a traffic jam assist technology that will be available in Europe on the company’s first electric vehicle, the i3.

The Federal Highway Administration’s Michael Trentacoste discussed an Intelligent Transportation Society initiative beginning next month in Ann Arbor, Mich., that will test vehicle-to-vehicle communications. Trentacoste said the results of the study will determine how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rules on the technology. NHTSA’s decision, due at the end of next year, could either mandate, decide standards or rule against vehicle-to-vehicle technology.

Nancy Wojcik of Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicle was on hand to discuss the state’s precedence in creating a driverless car licensing process. Wojcik said discussions with Google, the first and only company to attain Nevada’s license, started two years prior to legislation. The state is currently in the process of creating a license to operate the vehicle, and the state is also expecting future legislation as driverless technology changes.

“Then we will be going back to regulations and make the adjustments accordingly,” she said.

Google’s Anthony Levandowski was on hand to discuss the technology company’s work in the driverless car domain. When asked if it was feasible to attain Driverless Car Summit’s goal of having the technology readily available in 2022, Levandowski was adamant.

“I’d consider it a personal failure if driverless cars weren’t available by 2022.” 

Detecting Maritime Threats

Carnegie Mellon’s Jeremy Searock presented his research to autonomously detect maritime threats using an algorithm he developed through his graduate studies.

Leveraging work Searock performed to determine the moment just before a robot would have an issue and go off course, he created an algorithm that would scan a maritime environment and determine which vessels intend to move closer to a target of value. He is currently able to correctly identify a boat as nonthreatening 97.1 percent of the time and identify a threatening target 98.6 percent of the time.

“This is a proof of concept study on what’s one way we can do this, and the results show that this is a good first step.”

The next step of the project, which gets its funding through the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren division, would use radar or lidar to track actual vessels.

Maritime Patrol

The Maritime Security, Patrol and Force Protection educational session highlighted the innovations going into making unmanned maritime systems smarter, safer and cheaper. Arturo Cadena, research director for the Ecuadorian Navy, presented the navy’s efforts in developing ESGRUM, an unmanned surface vessel built with exclusively commercial off-the-shelf parts. The goal is to design a low-cost USV for coastal patrol and anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Guayanquil.

ESGRUM has a sensor suite that allow for autonomous navigation, as well as surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The Ecuadorian navy also tested an experimental rifle that fires self-propelled non-lethal bullets.

 “We wanted to develop a new weapons system that can be used only by us,” Cadena said.

More on Tuesday

AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012 continues on 7 Aug., with an opening general session that includes Brig. Gen. William R. Burks, the Adjutant General for the State of Nevada; Michael Huerta, the acting administrator for the FAA; and Leslie Cary, secretary of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Group at the International Civil Aviation Organization. The exhibit hall of the show will also open.


Ready for Its Close-Up: X-47 Makes East Coast Media Debut
By Brett Davis
31 July 2012


The U.S. Navy's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration aircraft made its East Coast media debut on Tuesday, 31 July, just two days after making a successful first flight at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.


The Navy brought the two X-47B aircraft to Pax River to complete their testing, including carrier deck integration and arrested landing, before actual carrier deck testing begins in 2013.

That schedule will depend on the availability of an actual carrier deck, said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, the program manager for the Unmanned Combat Air Systems program office.

In the meantime, he said the program is moving ahead "very efficiently," having wrapped up its earlier flight testing in Palmdale, Calif., with only 23 flights instead of the planned 41.

That efficiency is carrying forward at Pax River with Sunday's flight, which lasted 36 minutes and took the aircraft on two racetrack patterns over the Chesapeake Bay, reaching altitudes of up to 7,500 feet. Two flights had been planned, Engdahl said, but the goals were met with one.

The flight of the X-47B is the first time an autonomous, carrier-capable unmanned system has flown at Pax River and been fully integrated into its air traffic patterns and command and control structure.

The shortage of available carrier decks is forcing the Navy to create a virtual aircraft carrier environment at Patuxent River, in the form of the Navy UCAS Aviation/Ship Integration Facility (NASIF), which allows operators to mimic having a UCAS-D on an actual ship, including simulated landing wave-offs.

Cmdr. Jeff Dodge gave reporters a tour of the facility, which he said replicates an environment where "distance is measured in inches and time is measured in seconds."

That facility began development in 2007 and "has been under development ever since."

The UCAS-D program will provide some lessons learned and practices for the follow-up UCLASS program, intended to put operational unmanned aircraft on carrier decks by 2018-2020.

Rear Adm. Mat Winter, the new program executive officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons at Pax River, noted that the Navy is nearing a request for industry proposals for that program, so he couldn't talk about it.

However, he said some operational practices, if not actual technology, from UCAS-D "will be available to the UCLASS system."

Up and Running

Some of the systems displayed during the media day had some highly publicized problems in recent days but have since been righted.

One of the vehicles in the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance demonstrator program recently crashed and burned at Pax River. Those vehicles are older ex-Air Force Block 10 systems and have had some reliability problems, said Capt. James B. Hoke, the program manager for the Navy’s Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office. He declined to go into specifics, but said the malfunction was mechanical in nature and related to the vehicle’s air frame.

The program-of-record version of BAMS, dubbed Triton, is “a complete ground-up design” based on a newer Block 20 Global Hawk, he said.

The current BAMS-D was intended to be deployed for only six months, but is now “in its fourth year of a six-month deployment,” he said. The program is already providing more than half of the maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance needs of the Fifth Fleet and will remain active until the Tritons arrive, which is scheduled to begin in January 2016.

The Tritons are intended to be much more capable vehicles, providing full-motion video, communications relay and a 360-degree radar that the BAMS-D lacks.

The Navy’s MQ-8B Fire Scout has also had its issues, having been put on operational pause earlier this year after one crashed in Afghanistan and another was dunked in the ocean after it couldn’t be retrieved aboard ship.

Capt. Patrick Smith, the Fire Scout program manager, said four Fire Scouts are now deployed on the frigate USS Klakring, which recently deployed on a six-month anti-piracy mission to Africa.

More frigate deployments are planned after that, including the USS Bradley, the USS Roberts and others, and “there’s quite a few frigate deployments planned out to 2015,” Smith said.

Up to a dozen Fire Scouts are also slated to get a new Telephonic 1700 maritime search radar to meet an urgent need request for the Fifth Fleet area of operation.

“We’re not looking to develop a new radar, but rather get one that’s a proven product and integrate it into the Fire Scout.” A contract award is expected in August, with deployment in 2014, Smith said.

Also on media day, Lockheed Martin announced that the unmanned cargo-lugging K-Max that it developed with partner Kaman has had its deployment extended in Afghanistan. That’s the second extension this year, meaning the system will be active in the region through September 2013.

Insitu also announced that its RQ-21A unmanned aircraft, the winner of the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (STUAS) competition, had its first flight in late July.

The STUAS, based on the company’s commercial Integrator, had a one-hour successful test flight on 28 July at a company facility in eastern Oregon.

Ryan Hartman, the company’s senior vice president for Integrator Programs, said this leaves six months in the engineering, manufacturing and development phase of the program, after which the Navy is expected to order low-rate initial production versions.

Col. Jim Rector, USMC, the program manager for the STUAS program office, said STUAS will be the first organic ISR system deployed by the Marine Corps. Initial operational capability is scheduled for 2014, and “we should be in step and ready to go,” he said.


Click below to see a video released by the U.S. Navy of the X-47B's first test flight out of Pax River.


AUVSI Announces Newly Elected Board of Directors
31 July 2012

AUVSI announces its newly elected leaders on its Board of Directors.

Officers elected for the 2012-2013 term are Peter Bale, chairman; John Lademan, executive vice chairman; Ralph Alderson, first vice chairman and Joe Brannan, treasurer. Additionally, John Lambert continues as immediate past chairman for this term.

Newly elected to the AUVSI Board of Directors:
Jason Grabinsky
Heather Griffith
Steve Pennington
Chad Partridge
Dave Seagle
Michelle Kalphat

Continuing AUVSI Board of Directors:
Virginia Young
Grant Begley
Matt England
Gene Fraser
Stephen Newton
David Place
Peter Smith
Tim Heely
Neil Hunter
Rick Lynch
Mark Patterson

“These officers and directors represent a wide range of companies and institutions in the global unmanned systems and robotics community, bringing expertise in technology, applications and markets related to this rapidly emerging industry,” said AUVSI Chairman of Board of Directors Peter Bale. “We congratulate those elected and look forward to their service on the board.”

The new term of office for the board of directors starts at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012 in Las Vegas, 6-9 August, where more than 8,000 attendees from 40 countries will see 550+ exhibits and participate in 100+ educational sessions, showcasing the present and future capabilities of unmanned systems and robotics technology.

ONR Sets AACUS Program Timeline, Will Soon Announce Contractors
By Danielle Lucey
27 July 2012

Lexington Park,. Md. — At a 26 July event held by the Patuxent River Partnership, Office of Naval Research AACUS Program Officer Dr. Mary “Missy” Cummings announced a series of timelines and expectations for the Navy’s AACUS program.

An acronym for Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System, AACUS aims to allow any member of the military to call an autonomous helicopter to his location that would assist with cargo resupply. Unlike many other vertical take-off and landing UAS programs currently active in the military, the helicopter would have to fly to the soldier in need, land within a two-minute time frame and takeoff completely autonomously, without any intervention or the need for the soldier to have special training. However, the program is not a seeking a new platform, but rather is an open architecture, plug-and-play payload system, likely comprising multiple sensors, that could be placed on any helicopter. One day, AACUS could also intervene in casualty evacuation, a more high-risk scenario since a helicopter cannot waste time hovering while potentially being in the line of fire.

Though many unmanned systems get labeled autonomous, Cummings warned against the military and media’s overuse of the term.

“That word in academia has a pretty clear meaning,” said Cummings, who is also a professor at MIT. Predator doesn’t have the ability to reason on its own and any aircraft that relies on waypoint navigation is merely automated, she pointed out. AACUS would need to be smart enough to figure out under a lot of uncertainty how to land itself and get to a soldier or Marine in need of supplies or evacuation.

“For the most part, it’s the aircraft talking to, effectively, a novice user on the ground.”

Existing robotic VTOL K-MAX, from Lockheed Martin and Kaman, has a “teeny, tiny” bit of autonomy, said Cummings, but the aircraft still requires trained operators in the loop. Also, the AACUS program will differ from K-MAX’s cargo resupply missions in that AACUS will load and unload its cargo from the helicopter’s cabin instead of with an external sling load — likely welcome news to any Marine or soldier interested in AACUS’ future casualty evacuation option.

Though Northrop Grumman’s Fire Scout is a near and dear platform to the local community — the platform is housed at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station — the platform is an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability, so it differs quite a bit from the AACUS mission.

Though AACUS could share one capability in the future with Fire Scout — if the program succeeds, it could also perform autonomous takeoff and landings at sea.

The program falls under the scope of the Navy’s Innovative Naval Prototype umbrella, which is for high-risk, high-payoff, high-visibility projects, explained Cummings.

The program has a five-year scope, and ONR will announce the two groups of contractors selected to work on the program within the next month. A critical design review will occur in 2013, and demos are scheduled annually in fiscal years 2014-2017. Final review will occur in late fiscal year 2017.

Unmanned Aircraft Industry Backs Privacy Legislation
By Melanie Hinton
19 July 2012

Today, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) announced support for legislation to reaffirm individuals' Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches. An amendment included in the Department of Defense Appropriations bill, introduced by Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., only allows funding for the operation of UAS "in accordance" with the Fourth Amendment.

"The unmanned aircraft systems industry strongly supports Rep. LoBiondo's amendment included in the Defense Appropriations bill, which reaffirms Americans' Constitutional rights. Unmanned aircraft can help our police, fire fighters and first responders save time, save money and most importantly, save lives, while fully respecting Americans' rights to privacy. This amendment is right inline with our commitment to the safe and responsible integration of unmanned aircraft into our skies," said Michael Toscano, president & CEO of AUVSI.

Earlier this year, Congress passed, and the president signed into law, legislation requiring the Federal Aviation Administration to plan for the integration of unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System by 2015. Since then, AUVSI has met with a variety of stakeholders, including nearly a dozen privacy advocates and civil rights groups, to listen to their concerns and begin working toward solutions.

The industry's backing of the privacy legislation is just the latest example of its commitment to the safe and responsible integration of UAS into the National Airspace System. The industry recently released a Code of Conduct for UAS manufacturers and operators to ensure the safe, professional and respectful use of unmanned aircraft. The Code of Conduct set forth guidelines to provide AUVSI members - and those who design, test and operate UAS for public and civil use - with recommendations for their safe, non-intrusive operation, including respect for the privacy of individuals.

"Like with any merging technology, it is important that a commitment to safety, professionalism and respect is part of the foundation of its use. The Code of Conduct reflects how the rights of individuals and the safety of all users of civil airspace are our top priority as we work to unlock the incredible potential this technology holds," Toscano said.

House subcommittee addresses privacy, responsibility for UAS
By Stephanie Levy
19 July 2012

Thursday's hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management stressed the privacy concerns surrounding UAS in the national airspace. And in a push to solve the privacy problem, lawmakers urged the Department of Homeland Security to take initiative on the issue.

"DHS seems either disinterested or unprepared to step up to the plate," committee Chairman Michael T. McCail, R-Texas, said. "They don't see domestic use of drones as part of their role and don't see jurisdiction."

AUVSI CEO Michael Toscano submitted a statement for the record at the hearing. You can read the full statement here.

Other experts at the hearing stressed the many nonmilitary uses for UAS, where they have "potential for public safety, for emergency response, for search and rescue and at times for natural disasters," said William McDaniel from the Montgomery County Sherriff’s Office in Texas.

But members of Congress expressed concern that when President Barack Obama signed into law the new FAA reauthorization bill that calls for integrating UAS into the national airspace by 2015, there were no regulations put in place to protect the privacy of citizens. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, cited Supreme Court precedent that says operators can fly aircraft at less than 400 feet without a warrant, but privacy experts call these regulations insufficient.

"We probably need to look at some legislation," Cuellar admitted. "But when we draft legislation, we have to look that the Supreme Court has developed home doctrine."

AUVSI Submits Testimony for Congressional Subcommittee Hearing on Using UAS in the Homeland
18 July 2012

On 18 July, AUVSI released prepared testimony from Michael Toscano for the House Homeland Security – Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management hearing, “Using Unmanned Aerial Systems Within the Homeland: Security Game Changer? ” scheduled for Thursday, 19 July at 9:30 a.m.

In the testimony, Mr. Toscano discusses the many potential uses for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and the industry’s efforts to ensure a safe and responsible integration of UAS into the national airspace. The testimony lays out the UAS industry’s commitment to safety, highlighted by the industry’s recently released “Code of Conduct,” as well as the technological advancements to help ensure their safe operation.

QinetiQ, U.K. MOD Team on UAS Capability Center
By Brett Davis
12 July 2012

In another sign of the growing U.K. interest in unmanned systems, QinetiQ announced at the Farnborough Air Show that it has teamed with the Ministry of Defence to support the rapid development of unmanned aircraft at the new Unmanned Air Systems Capability Development Centre.

The new center will have its hub at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire and is scheduled to be fully operational by April 2013. The intent of the UASCDC will be to bring together defense and industry expertise to accelerate the insertion of technology, pool best practices and lessons learned and coordinate access to airspace and test ranges, among other things.

“Alongside the MOD, we are implementing a new approach so that we can combine our peoples’ in-depth understanding of air vehicle engineering, release-to-service, integration of command and control and communications systems, and above all safety, with that of the full range of suppliers,” says Fiona Lewington, the account director for UASCDC at QinetiQ. “This combined approach will allow new UAS capabilities to be brought to life more efficiently and effectively than before.”

The UASCDC ultimately will be intended to serve not only the military market but researchers, industry and other government agencies.

Worldwide ScanEagle

Insitu, maker of the ScanEagle and Integrator unmanned aircraft, announced several international sales at the Farnborough Air Show 2012 and Senior Vice President of Business Development Ryan Hartman says international growth is a key area for the company.

“The reason we’re here is it’s really representative of our international growth,” he said. “We’ve been really focused on growing internationally over the last two years.”

The company has experienced a 40 percent growth in its international market, he says, including deals with Singapore, Australia, the Netherlands and Japan.

“They’re all starting to come into play here and it’s pretty exciting,” he said.

The company’s best-known product, the ScanEagle, has racked up more than 600,000 flight hours, mostly for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The larger Integrator has been selected for the Marines’ Small Tactical UAS program, which is moving to low-rate initial production later this year and is on track for initial operational capability next year.

The company has other customers for the Integrator — a mix of international and U.S.-based ones — but Hartman said he’s not able to reveal them yet.

Insitu, owned by Boeing, made its business mark with ScanEagle by offering the Navy a fee-for-services model, dubbed pixel by the hour. 

“The company bears the risk of the development of the system, manufacturing, launching, putting it into the target area,” he said. “You hope the camera works, because that’s when the meter starts.”

He said some of that model is likely to carry over into the commercial world as well once the airspace regulations allow it, although he said Insitu wants to maintain a balance of fee-for-service programs and sales.

“We learned a lot over the first four years and we’re still learning today,” he said. “What we learned is how to balance the investments required in both capability and reliability of the systems and … we’re motivated to invest in those two areas.”

As part of that, the company announced a new payload, the Super EO, capable of reading a car’s license plate from a mile away and providing facial recognition. It’s designed for the ScanEagle but could migrate to the Integrator, and will be displayed at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America.

Selex Galileo

Italy’s Selex Galileo, a division of Finmeccanica, announced that it has received a contract worth 140 million euros from Northrop Grumman to lead the Italian portion of the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance program, based around the Global Hawk UAS.

Selex Galileo will also oversee the Romanian and Bulgarian participation, provide components for the system’s ground-based element and provide a wideband data link produced by sister company Selex Elsag.

The company also discussed its skyISTAR concept, first unveiled at last year’s Defence Security Equipment International (DSEI) show.

That marks “a new business for us,” said the company’s Carlo Siarli.

It will focus on “providing information rather than data” by processing as much intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data on board the aircraft as possible and incorporating data from a variety of sensors. 

SkyISTAR is intended to be platform agnostic, able to work with manned and unmanned aircraft. The idea is for the operator to specify what they need, then the system locates the assets needed to carry that out, whether they be on a manned or unmanned aircraft.

“This is a system which allows any type of payload integration,” Siarli said.

While at the moment it’s focused on getting information from aircraft to the ground, Siarli said ultimately it will also be able to transmit imagery from a UAS to the cockpit of a manned aircraft.

Sixton in Flight

AUVSI sponsored the Farnborough Air Show’s Unmanned Systems Showcase, which included an indoor netted flying area. Italy’s Alpi Aviation took advantage of the space to fly its new Sixton six-rotor unmanned aircraft. The company’s larger vehicle, the fixed-wing Strix, is deployed in Afghanistan with the Italian army, the company says.

UAS Flight Kicks Off Farnborough 2012
By Brett Davis
9 July 2012

The Farnborough Air Show 2012 kicked off with the autonomous flight of a Portuguese unmanned aircraft, highlighting the increasing importance of UAS at the show.

Tekever’s AR4 Light Ray flew a few laps over the main runway before the official start of the air demonstrations, a low-key display that still may have managed to bring a UAS a bit closer to full integration at Farnborough.

The AR4 is a hand-launched, back-packable UAS that is nearing production, according to Marco Manso, general manager of the Lisbon-based company.

“We are still testing it with the Portuguese army,” he said. “They will be sending it to Kosovo for missions there.”

The system is scheduled to fly every day at the show, with a video feed displayed in the company’s booth. The company is also working on a larger system, Manso said.


Another system making its Farnborough debut is Israel Aerospace Industries’ Taxibot, a remotely operated ground vehicle intended to move aircraft around airports, thereby saving fuel by not having the aircraft having to move under their own power. The Taxibot would be controlled by the aircraft pilot.

Lufthansa is testing a prototype at Chateauroux, a small airport southeast of Paris, says Arie Perry, IAI’s Taxibot program engineer. On 9 July, the first day of the show, IAI and a daughter company of German airline Lufthansa, Lufthansa LEOS, signed a memorandum of understanding to test four systems beginning in March of next year, for six months.

That will mark the first operation use of the narrowbody version of the vehicle, which can move aircraft up to the size of a Boeing 757 or Airbus A320. A widebody version, able to move larger aircraft like the Boeing 767 or Airbus A380, is still in the works but is scheduled to begin testing next year.

Beginning next year, while the Lufthansa evaluation is ongoing, “we will try to sell it,” Perry says. “We are looking for a launch customer.”

Industry Impact

British Prime Minister David Cameron opened the show on Monday, and the show is partly aimed at promoting the United Kingdom aerospace market.

As part of this, the also saw the launching of the National Aeronautical Centre, a rebranding of the West Wales Airport, the only privately owned airport in the U.K. where unmanned aircraft can fly.

The area will build on its existing tenants, such as the U.K.’s Watchkeeper UAS program, to develop an area where unmanned systems users and developers can exchange ideas and technologies.

“The MOD [Ministry of Defence] needs this, the industry needs this, and the U.K. needs this,” Ray Mann, managing director of the organization that owns the Wales airport, said in a press release. “It is the go-to place for aeronautic products to be developed, evaluated and demonstrated.”


Unmanned aircraft are visible throughout the show, including established systems and new starts. Turkish Aerospace Industries is showing a model of its Anka, a 24-hour endurance, 30,000-foot altitude unmanned aircraft.

Erol Oguz, the company’s engineering manager for UAV systems, says TAI is wrapping up the Anka flight-testing phase this month and expects to begin production by the end of the year. 

Turkey’s government is the launch customer, but TAI is looking for export opportunities as well, Oguz says. Anka has a wingspan of 17.3 meters, uses a heavy fuel engine and is transportable by a C-130 aircraft.

On the newer end of things, Austria’s Aerie is making its airshow debut with models of the three vertical takeoff and landing systems it is developing. The aircraft are intended to take off like a helicopter and then transition to forward flight, but instead of having the engines pivot, as some other designs do, the entire wings would pivot to make the transition.

The smallest of the three systems, the S-25, has been in flight testing since last August. It has a 5 meter wingspan and can carry a maximum payload of 8 kilograms. The two larger systems, still in development, the D-150 and K-200, have wingspans of 10 meters. The D-150 can carry a payload of up to 50 kilograms and the K-200 can carry up to 80 kilograms.

Aerie’s Johnannes Reiter says the designs offer more lift efficiency and are economical because they use components sourced from various partners, including an autopilot from Canada’s MicroPilot and a ground control system from Riga, Latvia-based UAV Factory.

UAV Factory, incidentally, announced a new record: Its Penguin B aircraft recently racked up a 54 hour, 27-minute flight, a groundbreaking accomplishment for a small UAS. The system flown was testing some new developments that could be retrofitted into existing Penguin B systems, including an electronic fuel injection system built by Australia’s Currawong Engineering and a Piccolo flight control system built by Oregon-based Cloud Cap Technology.

An End to Spoofing?

BAE Systems announced that its new Navigation via Signals of Opportunity, or NAVSOP, system could replace GPS, thus solving a variety of navigation problems, including "spoofing," where aircraft are hijacked by spurious signals.

NAVSOP exploits transmissions such as wi-fi, TV, radio and mobile phone signals to help calculate a user's location to within a few meters, making it "able to calculate its position by making use of the hundreds of different signals that are all around us."

BAE Systems says that makes it resistant to jamming and spoofing, and "even the signals from GPS jammers can be exploited by the device to aid navigation under certain conditions."

Robotics Rodeo Branches Out with New Challenges, Demonstrations
By Brett Davis
2 July 2012

Forty four companies from around the country and beyond brought their wares to Georgia's Fort Benning on 20-29 June, putting them through their paces in a series of challenged sponsored by the U.S. Army's Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) and the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).

"A lot of the technology we have seen has been product improvement, and I think a goodness of what we do with the industry," said Eddie Davis, the deputy director of the Army's Maneuver Battle Lab, which helped create the event. He spoke at the conclusion of the event, a 29 June media day. "We look at technology here with soldiers and find improvements that need to be made."

Overall, 74 technologies from 44 companies and five universities took part, either in the challenges or by setting up displays at the event. Most were from the United States, although Turkey's top defense contractor, Aselsan, brought its new Kaplan ground vehicle, the first time it has shown the system outside its home country.

Vignettes and Challenges

It was the third year for the rodeo, but there were some differences from previous events. TARDEC and JIEDDO scripted tactical situations where the vendors could demonstrate their abilities.

"The difference this year from previous years is we focused on specific tactical events," said Harry Lubin, the chief of the experimental branch at the Battle Lab. "An example would be ... occupy a battle position. Can a robot come in ... and actually dig out initial battle positions before a soldier gets there?"

That particular demonstration - sponsored by TARDEC - also caught the eye of the Battle Lab's Davis and that of Jim Parker, the associate director of ground vehicle robotics at TARDEC, all of whom mentioned it in briefings on media day.

That demonstration was carried out by QinetiQ North America, which used its bolt-on robotics kit to turn a stock Bobcat front-end loader into a remotely operated vehicle. The company actually rented the Bobcat from a local vendor and installed its tele-operation kit on site, said Charlie Dean, the company's director of business development. The company completed the task in 89 minutes, one minute shy of the deadline.

Soldier Tested

Parker said the key advantage of the rodeo is the participation of soldiers, who could evaluate the systems in something resembling their actual day-to-day use.

While TARDEC sponsored what he called "operational vignettes," JIEDDO "had more specific tailored events," Parker said. "We were collecting both technical data and we also had soldiers participating and writing down their assessments ... as they see a new piece of equipment perform, this is another opportunity for us to use that equipment in another way."

JIEDDO's Matt way, program integrator, said the agency had 23 technologies from 18 vendors who made it through its four challenges, which focused on endurance, detection, disruption and reconnaissance.

The rodeo "allows us to communicate in a physical means what our problem set is," Way said at the 29 June media day. He said the agency is still "crunching the data" from the events and will meet with the vendors to discuss the results.

For a look at some of the systems that took part in the rodeo, visit AUVSI's YouTube page.

AUVSI Releases "Code of Conduct" for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations
Promotes Safe, Responsible Use as Integration into Airspace Proceeds
02 July 2012

AUVSI published the “Unmanned Aircraft System Operations Industry Code of Conduct”, a set of guidelines to provide AUVSI members – and those who design, test and operate UAS for public and civil use – with recommendations for their safe, non-intrusive operation.

Central to the “Code of Conduct” is the need for “safety, professionalism and respect” in all uses of UAS. This code is meant to provide UAS industry manufacturers and users a convenient checklist for operations and a means to demonstrate their obligation to supporting the growth of the industry in a safe and responsible manner. 

“The emergence of unmanned aircraft systems represents one of the most significant advancements to aviation, the scientific community, and public service since the beginning of flight,” said Michael Toscano, President and CEO of AUVSI. “With a commitment to safety, professionalism and respect, we can ensure unmanned aircraft are integrated responsibly into civil airspace.”

The guidelines recommend when and by whom UAS should be flown, to minimize risk. They commit to complying with all federal, state and local laws and cooperating with authorities at all levels. The guidelines also commit to respecting other users of the airspace, the privacy of individuals, the concerns of the public and improving public awareness of UAS.

“By proactively adhering to these guidelines, we want to demonstrate how the rights of individuals and the safety of all users of civil airspace are our top priority, as we work to unlock the incredible potential this technology holds,” Toscano said.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act signed into law on February 14, 2012, included a provision requiring the FAA to safely integrate UAS into the national airspace. The law created a number of deadlines for the FAA to meet on its way to the safe integration of UAS by September 2015.

Unmanned aircraft systems extend human potential, allowing individuals to execute dangerous and often difficult tasks safely and efficiently. Whether it is aiding search and rescue efforts, navigating through airspace too hazardous for manned vehicles, or furthering scientific research, UAS are capable of saving time, saving money and most importantly, saving lives.

To view the Code of Conduct, visit

UAS UK Reviews Unmanned Portfolio, Laments Lack of Airspace
By Danielle Lucey
26 June 2012

The first Unmanned Aerial Systems UK conference, currently being held at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, looked at the area’s host of developmental platforms, while checking in with other programs in Europe and around the globe.

Many speakers anticipated greater capabilities with the U.K.’s upcoming platform developments and addressed the country’s airspace difficulties.

Wing Commander Paul Mouncey from the U.K. Ministry of Defence reviewed his country’s system capabilities, highlighting the need to have detailed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability requirements.

“Once you look at that then you say, can I have the required or an adequate capability if I take the human out of the cockpit?” he said. Though the U.S. Air Force has recently reversed its endorsement of using airships, canceling the Blue Devil II, Mouncey said hybrid airships are likely the unmanned systems that are virtually guaranteed to be greater than those of manned systems.

The United Kingdom’s medium-altitude, long-endurance needs are changing, and the country is bringing new platforms to the fold in that area. Although the Royal Air Force currently favors the Reaper as its MALE platform of choice, the country intends on moving onto Scavenger program and then in the far-term the Unmanned Combat Air System.

The country has been flying Reapers in Afghanistan since 2007, but it will make an investment decision on moving to the Scavenger in 2015, said Air Vice Marshall Mark Green, who is in charge of airborne and C4ISR assets for the MoD. Both the BAE Systems’ Taranis demonstrator UCAV and its Mantis platform are feeding the bottom line for the needs for Scavenger, he continued.

Green discussed how the initial promise that unmanned systems could add ISR capability while reducing force size is proving less true, with often many operators tasked to a UAS at a time. It currently takes the RAF 35 to 36 people to fly a Reaper, he said, and upcoming more autonomous systems have a similar issue.

“Watchkeeper has a great deal of automation and is probably half that sort of number,” he said. If this trend continues, unmanned aircraft could end up being just as costly as manned aircraft, he warned.

Green discussed the inevitable end of the U.K.’s Typhoon fast jet, with current plans to replace it with the Future Combat Air System, which could be partially unmanned, he said. He envisioned the program would ultimately have two elements to it, one manned and one unmanned.

Mouncey envisioned future issues with the MoD’s acquisitions model versus how quickly technology changes. Moore’s Law, which details that computing capabilities will double roughly every six months, will make plug-and-play sensors more and more important he said, since the acquisition of platforms can keep them around for 30 years or more, he said.

“By the time you get equipment into service in six months, it will almost be redundant.”

The holy grail of unmanned systems is still flying in non-segregated airspace, said Mouncey. Currently testing in the U.K. can be performed out of ParcAberporth or Salisbury Plain, where Watchkeeper will fly, he said.  

While proving airworthiness and technology will be easy to gain access to airspace, Mouncey said regulations will likely lag. He hypothesized civil agencies would aid in solving that issue.

President and CEO of AUVSI, Michael Toscano, highlighted how the United Kingdom could participate in the United States’ promise of allowing UAS to fly alongside other aircraft by late 2015. Among the requirements for the Federal Aviation Administration to reach that goal is a 2013 roadmap.

“What I would suggest from a global standpoint is that we all get involved with this, because you have the same concerns that we do,” said Toscano. “This is global, and we need to think that way.”

Sherbrooke Soars to Victory at SUAS 2012
By Stephanie Levy
18 June 2012

University of Sherbrooke won the 2012 Student Unmanned Air System (SUAS) competition at Naval Air Station Patuxent River's Webster Field in Maryland. Sherbrooke, located in Quebec, Canada, beat out the other registered teams competing.

This year's teams had to image smaller targets on the ground below, as well as locate and fly over a ground sensor that transmitted a cone of information up to the sky.

"There is a smaller flight search area, but with more requirements for how you fly the area," explained Tim Gjernes, team lead from Simon Fraser University in Canada.

This year also saw the addition of a new prize for teams that entered the competition with an unmanned helicopter. Utah State University, whose fixed-wing UAS won the competition last year, and Kansas State University entered UAS in that area of competition.

"The American Helicopter Society provided a specific $1,000 prize for the best rotary wing team," said competition director Joe Brannan.

In all, 29 teams participated, seven of which were from international universities. While most of the teams were comprised of college students, local high schools from Maryland and Virginia also had teams participating.

"I think this competition is really great especially for educational purposes," Kim Nguyen, team member for North Carolina State University, said. "People are volunteering their time to improve not only the government, but also society because they're contributing to these systems we really need to think about."

Cooperation, Competition the Name of the Game at Eurosatory
By Brett Davis
13 June 2012

As the United States prepares to shift its focus to Asia and away from Europe, nations in that region are making plans to work together to improve their defense capabilites without busting their budgets.
One such cooperative effort, the U.K.-French Telemos project to develop a medium-altitude unmanned aircraft, was announced last year by BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation.
At this year’s Eurosatory defense exhibition in Paris, the European Defence Agency announced the latest in a series of cooperative studies, this one focused on future ground systems. 
Claude-France Arnould, the CEO of EDA, said at a panel discussion that “clearly, it’s time to act on European defense capabilities” and focus on systems that are mature “so we can act soon.”
Although the focus is on land systems, that also includes components that support those efforts, such as unmanned aircraft. A final report is due by the end of the year, with possible pilot programs identified.
“We have what you call in English seed money, and the member states might give money to implement,” Arnould said. “We have money to foster and support, and then if it is relevant … the aim of the roadmap and the acquisition plan is acquisition by the member states.”
Seventeen companies will produce the study, titled “Roadmap and Implementation Plan for Key Industrial Capabilities on Future Land Systems,” an effort managed by BAE Systems. The plan will be divided into time horizons of five years, 15 years and 30 years.
Col. Eric Ozanne, the French army’s dismounted future capabilities officer, said at a separate panel on ground capabilities that France is already considering a greater involvement with ground robotics as part of its Scorpion Program Step 2 re-equipping plan.
“For us, using robots is a way of being able to meet the needs of our group,” he said through an interpreter. “We’re not going to be replacing soldiers with robots, rather we’ll be bolstering them.”
The Army will be looking for systems that can be optionally manned, can carry armaments — for knocking over walls or doors, not for killing — and that can help with logistics such as by carrying cargo, among other things, he said.
Like other militaries, including the U.S. Marine Corps, France’s defense ministry is developing a robotic mule that can help troops lug the things they must carry, and Israel Aerospace Industries showcased its latest version of the Rex system for carrying gear.
One British company working on something similar is MIRA, which displayed its MACE 3 Sherpa vehicle at Eurosatory. MIRA has been working in the field of unmanned ground vehicles for a decade and the British army currently uses its MACE 3 Panama, an anti-improvised explosive device machine, in Afghanistan.
Pathfinder is completely autonomous or remote controlled, but Sherpa, intended to lug gear, can be manually driven as well, says Robert Mohacsi, senior global sales manager for MIRA’s Defence Systems unit.
The company is developing a facility near its headquarters in Warwickshire that will include an existing unmanned ground vehicle test track and intelligent transportation infrastructure, which by 2020 “will be the largest transport technology park in Europe,” he said. “We have huge plans for growth.”
Cooperation Through Sales
Cooperation was evident in other areas as well, as California-based AeroVironment announced two international sales at the show. The Swedish Defence Materiel Administration has ordered 12 Puma and Wasp small unmanned aircraft systems, including ground stations, training and support, with the option to buy up to 30 systems.
Shortly thereafter, the company announced that Denmark also ordered some of its small aircraft, $9.6 million worth of Puma systems.

Connected: Automakers, roboticists, government, academia gather to make intelligent vehicles a reality
By Danielle Lucey
12 June 2012

More than 200 people gathered in Detroit today for the first ever Driverless Car Summit, a gathering organized by AUVSI and the Connected Vehicle Proving Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. 

Dedicated to understanding the myriad issues present in making driverless vehicles a reality by 2022, the day kicked off with a speech by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. 

Snyder, who has a business background and also experience in the micro- and nanotechnology fields, highlighted five areas he has experienced that are key to building a new industry: technology, capital, talent, infrastructure and culture. 

While Snyder said he had little concerns about the technology in the field, capital and culture may prove harder. 

“It’s something that you need to think about — how to engage the public and recognize there’s an adoption curve,” said Snyder. 

Keynote speaker Bran Ferren, cochairman of Applied Minds LLC, was critical of pushing the timeline of driverless technology, since the concept has been around for about 80 years — almost as old as the car itself. However, he was passionate about it eventually happening. 

“But I’m a big fan, and I think this is a really critically important thing,” he said. 

Ferren, who said he’d like to see the auto industry and technology be U.S.-centric, noted that, often, those that create groundbreaking technologies are not aware they’re participating in that change, and often an industry’s greatest competition comes from outside the industry. For GM, its biggest competitor may be Google, he said, similar to how Encyclopedia Britannica has been invalidated by Wikipedia. 

Also, those that are making that change sometimes create it at a time where society does not require or demand that technology. 

“If you think you’re going to have people out there that understand why what you’re doing is important, you won't, said Ferren. “What’s going to make this happen is a small number of highly passionate people that think this is really important.”

Henrik Christensen, robotics researcher at Georgia Tech, is one of those people. He highlighted his work with fellow researchers, creating a robotics roadmap that was eventually adopted by the White House, inspiring its National Robotics Initiative, announced last June. 

Christensen said he’d like to see technologies outside the auto industry leveraged to make better user interfaces on cars, which have gone essentially unchanged for 100 years. He cited the average 20-year-old U.S. male has played 12,000 hours of his life playing computer games. 

Chuck Thorpe, from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, spoke as the point of contact for the National Robotics Initiative. He disagreed with Snyder on societal issues. 

“I don’t think the cultural acceptance that the governor talked about will be an issue,” he said, citing many years of public anticipation, idolizing the technology, like a video he showed from the 1939 World’s Fair. His concern was the technology dealing with all the anomalies of driving, for example, a ball bouncing into the road that likely also has a child chasing after it. 

GM’s Gary Smyth spoke to his company’s evolving technology, like the company’s new Super Cruise semi-autonomous vehicle plan, which he said was displayed for the media a few weeks ago. 

In 2000, a GM car had an average of $400 of electronics and a million lines of code, while today’s average is $1,200 and 100 million lines of code. 

“You can imagine where that is going to be in five to 10 years’ time.”

Big things come in small packages at Sensors Expo 2012
By Stephanie Levy
12 June 2012

Speakers and floor exhibitors at Sensors Expo 2012 in Chicago showcased new ways sensors are bringing autonomy and connectivity to manned and unmanned technologies.

"The infrastructure that services us, our cars and our buildings are going to become increasingly computationally capable," said Assaf Biderman, Associate Director of MIT's SENSEable City Laboratory. "They're going to be connected, that means there's some sort of digital layer that's weaving its way into the world we're living in."

The SENSEable City Laboratory has developed Aida, a personal driving robot that learns a person's driving habits, including popular routes and destinations. Aida can also evaluate real-time infrastructure information from the city and inform the driver of community events and detours in the area.

On the show floor, MicroStrain showed off its new Lossless Extended Range sensor. The name says it all. In a live demonstration, the sensor worked with other MicroStrain sensors, using wireless communication and precision time sync to communicate to a single base station over long distances. The company says the new sensor can be used in chain management, environmental monitoring and structural health monitoring. MicroStrain also showcased the 3DM-GX2-45, its inertial sensors for unmanned vehicle navigation.

Training Systems, New Developments on Display at Eurosatory 2012
By Brett Davis
11 June 2012

Switzerland’s Resource Group, sensing a market opportunity, in January launched Resource UAS, a United Kingdom-based subsidiary devoted to providing unmanned aircraft training, both for pilots and payload operators.

The company is focusing on small UAS at first, such as the quadrotor Skywatch system displayed in their booth at Eurosatory 2012, but could also train to larger systems. Resource UAS is scheduled to deliver its first training course at the end of September to a customer it can’t reveal.

Resource UAS can take a rank beginner and make them an operator, going from “zero to hero,” according to Fiona Turner, business development coordinator. “They’ll have all the foundation knowledge they will need,” she says.

“One of the big issues is training. There is no industry standard, everything’s mostly ad hoc.” The U.K. military has its own training —Resource’s is based on it and most of its instructors are ex-military — but “there’s no formalization to it, no structure.”

The courses include a web-based introduction, a classroom course and operational demonstrations, and also touch on legal and regulatory issues. The company is also working with the Civil Aviation Authority as it provides its courses.

“They are looking to industry to give some guidance on this,” Turner says.

Can You Hear Me Now?

ReconRobotics has added audio transmission to its tiny, Throwbot XT. The company demonstrated the system at its booth at Eurosatory, where the robot transmitted a cell-phone conversation from inside a building.

Adding sound “adds to the picture, for want of a better word,” says Barry Harris, the company’s director of international programs.

The audio transmits at about the 35 decibels level and the system’s remote control includes a jack for headphones. The new Throwbot XT also includes improved weatherproofing over previous systems.

Cal State Northridge repeats IGVC glory
By Danielle Lucey
11 June 2012

In what may become a dynasty in the making, California State University Northridge continued its winning streak at the AUVSI Foundation Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition this year, placing first for the second year in a row. 

This year’s IGVC saw a challenge change, where the navigation and autonomous challenge were combined, tasking teams to first lane keep and obstacle avoid for a windy 275-foot stretch before entering “no man’s land,” a massive open space where robots were guided around purely by waypoint following to six locations and then had to enter another 275-foot lane to the end of the track. Despite the huge change in rules, which many judges thought would be insurmountable for the college teams, Cal State Northridge completed nearly the entire competition, finding all six waypoints and navigating within feet of the end of the course, a grand challenge pot that would have won the team $25,000 with the completion. 

Though the team reused its robotic platform from last year, Red Raven, the team had nearly 100 percent turnover from the prior year, since the IGVC challenge is one-time mechanical engineering class for students. Picking up 100 feet for each of the waypoints the robot encountered, the team totaled a whopping 1,210 feet, placing it nearly 200 feet ahead of its second-place AutoNav Challenge competition, the U.S. Naval Academy. 

The team optimized a lot of its code to make it run faster and improved the style for its user interface to aid with debugging, according to team captain Alex Anikstein. 

The team this year was made up entirely of undergraduates, though the students pulled in long hours, about 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day of the competition, to pull off the win. 

“We have about two or three people that are basically not going to leave the robot’s side until the end of the competition,” said Anikstein, of his team’s strategy. “We have a couple people who are just dedicated to it.”

AUVSI Rejects Calls for Unlawful Destruction of Unmanned Aerial Systems

18 May 2012

Today, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) released the following statement from President and CEO Michael Toscano in response to recent depictions in the media that put the unlawful destruction of unmanned aerial systems in a positive light:

“To advocate for people to shoot down any object from U.S. airspace is irresponsible, dangerous and unlawful. Unmanned aerial systems are being designed to serve the public good, such as helping search and rescue officers find missing children, monitor weather and wildlife, provide disaster relief and respond to emergencies, as they did in the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan last year. The myriad of important uses will be imperiled if they become targets. Meanwhile, the suggestion that Americans take up arms against unmanned aircraft also endangers citizens on the ground.

“AUVSI welcomes civil discussions about privacy and the proper uses of unmanned aircraft, but it cannot and does not condone violence against technology intended to keep citizens safe while saving taxpayer dollars.”

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer recently stated that unmanned aircraft should be banned entirely in the United States, and said that “I would predict — I’m not encouraging, but I would predict, the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring down a drone that’s hovering over his house is gonna be a folk hero in this country.”
The NBC television show “Harry’s Law” also recently portrayed its main character shooting down a “drone” in just such a situation.

Under New Leadership, FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office Meets Its Deadline
by Timothy Adelman, Aviation Attorney 
14 May 2012

The FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office (formally the UAPO) and the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice’s Aviation Technology Program (NIJ) have worked diligently over the past 18 months to identify the hurdles to public safety unmanned aircraft operations in the National Airspace System (NAS) and to provide solutions to those hurdles. With the help of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, chaired by Reps. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the FAA’s Reauthorization Bill provided language for a roadmap to lessen the hurdles associated with the deployment of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) by public safety.

When the FAA’s Reauthorization Bill was signed into law by President Obama on 14 February 2012, the FAA was faced with a deadline to enter into agreements with appropriate government agencies to simplify the process for issuing Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COAs) to operate sUAS public aircraft. While the UAS Integration Office had already been working on a solution in advance of the Bill, the 90-day deadline turned up the heat to get the solution completed. Under its new leadership by James Williams, head of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office and in direct coordination with NIJ, the FAA has developed a streamlined COA process for public safety.

With more than 18,000 domestic law enforcement agencies in the United States and many more public safety agencies, including fire service and emergency response teams, the potential demand for aviation assets is high. Through various studies over the years, there are less than  400 law enforcement aviation units. In other words, less than 3% of all law enforcement organizations have aviation assets to support their daily operations. Why so few? Largely because of the cost and complexity of operating manned aircraft.

In 2007 the Bureau of Justice Statistics published a report that examined the use of aviation assets in large law enforcement organizations (100 officers or more). They identified 201 aviation units operating in 46 states. Those units spend more than $300 million in one year on aircraft purchases, leasing, financing, maintenance and fuel, an average of $1.5 million per aviation unit. While almost all law enforcement agencies would benefit from aviation units, not many can afford them.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) provide an affordable solution to those agencies that need “eyes in the sky" but don’t have the budget or for those agencies that need to supplement their current aviation units with more cost effective aircraft for specific missions. In December 2009, NIJ hosted a conference for all public safety agencies interested or currently using UAS. During that conference, the agencies identified the anticipated scenarios for which UAS could provide vital support: tactical teams, forensics, fire safety, high-risk warrants, marijuana eradication, photographing critical infrastructure, corrections, traffic for ingress/egress under special conditions, payload detection of HazMat, aid in evacuation after natural disasters, critical incidents, and post-event forensics.

Most domestic public safety agencies are looking for small UAS (sUAS) to provide immediate eyes in the sky in response to a defined incident. The anticipated use of sUAS does not include routine patrol, which would require flight for extended distances over an extended time period. Operations would occur within “defined incident perimeter” in close proximity to the individual controlling the aircraft on the ground and most operations would be for a relatively short duration, i.e. less than an hour. Therefore, the FAA's UAS Integration Office in collaboration with NIJ designed a solution that would permit the operation of sUAS in a less restrictive manner than current FAA policy.

While the COA process will continue, many of its barriers will be reduced. COAs will be available for operations within a defined incident perimeter throughout an agency’s jurisdiction. There will be no need to obtain an emergency COA for a specific mission. As long as the agency operates within its COA, it can fly when it wants and where it wants. COAs will require line of sight operations under 400’ AGL during VFR conditions. The COA will permit certain operations within Class C, D, E and G airspace. In addition, and with certain restrictions, agencies can get a COA that would involve operations within 5nm of an airport.

The FAA's UAS Integration Office and NIJ will develop a knowledge base exam for those operators that do not have an FAA issued airman certificate. This exam will help agencies demonstrate an adequate level of airman knowledge to ensure the safe operation of UAS, a tremendous asset for individual agencies risk management programs. The COA process will also provide a sample Safety Risk Analysis Plan (“SRAP”) to help the agency identify its areas of risk and ensure safe operating procedures. 

The FAA is working to streamline the current online application to lessen the burden on agencies applying for COAs and to help expedite review. The COA process currently requires a lot of technical detail on the aircraft and equipment. The FAA, through its work with NIJ, will develop a master list of sUAS that an agency can use to simply select the aircraft with appropriate equipment. Manufacturers will be able to have their aircraft included in this master list through an independent assessment process.

With model standard operating procedures, SRAP, operating limitations and training curriculum, agencies will have an easier time applying for COAs. The streamlined process will eliminate the need to recreate the wheel and simply provide agencies with best practices for sUAS operations.
The news for public safety agencies and manufacturers is good. The FAA was once considered a major hurdle for public safety operations. While I still hear agencies and manufacturers claim that the barrier to sUAS operations is the FAA, that is no longer an accurate statement. The FAA has already issued operational COAs for specific jurisdictions to a number of agencies. Building upon that experience and through discussions with NIJ and public safety officers, the FAA created the new COA process to help reduce the administrative burden for agencies while at the same time ensure adequate safety. 

While the new “Common Strategy” which streamlines the COA process has been agreed upon, there remains an ongoing implementation process. A few of these implementation steps include:

  • Creating an online knowledge exam for operators.
  • Creating a sample SRAP for agencies to use when applying for a COA.
  • Revising the on-line COA application website to incorporate the streamlined process.
  • Educating manufacturers and end-users on the new process.

The FAA, DOJ and DHS Science and Technology Directorate are working together to host a multiday sUAS focused conference that will include both educational seminars and live sUAS demonstrations by active law enforcement sUAS units. This conference will mark the kickoff for the new “Common Strategy” and it’s streamlined COA process. Attendees will have an opportunity to hear from the FAA, DHS S&T and DOJ regarding sUAS operations. Seminars will include information about the new streamlined process, best practices for operating sUAS in a public safety mission, examples of how to develop your own SRAP, and much more. The conference is anticipated to occur in the middle of September. Stayed tuned for more information about dates and locations.

Having had a chance to participate in many of the discussions with the FAA and NIJ about the new streamlined COA process and having had the chance to discuss operations with many public safety entities, I am confident that the “Common Strategy” will be a significant step forward in the employment of sUAS by public safety agencies. There appears to be a fundamental shift in the FAA’s perception of public safety operations. Initially, the FAA feared operations by public safety agencies that did not have adequate aviation knowledge, thereby creating a risk in the National Airspace System. Now, the FAA is focused on providing the tools necessary to help those public safety agencies conduct safe operations in the National Airspace System. Many of the new requirements in the streamlined COA process will help agencies identify the risk of operations and implement proper mitigating steps to limit those risks which seems to be in alignment with the FAA’s desire to introduce Safety Management Systems concepts. In the end, the goal is to increase our public safety agencies’ effectiveness through technology without unnecessarily increasing the risk to persons or property.

The Case for Driverless Cars
10 May 2012

AUVSI recently released a new white paper: The Case for Driverless Cars.

Driverless cars have been a dream for drivers around the world since the invention of the automobile more than 100 years ago, but have yet to be realized on a mass scale. Recent demonstrations and competitions, utilizing corporate and government investments, have shown that driverless car technology is maturing to the point where such vehicles may be commercially viable within a decade.

A variety of non-technical issues remain in order to field driverless cars. Legal, liability, regulatory, culture, and privacy concerns all need to be addressed for consumers to be able to use, and desire to use, driverless cars.

The paper goes into detail in these issues, the potential American consumer market, and technical aspects of driverless cars. The paper is written for people without a strong background in driverless cars looking for more information and is a good background for people interested in the Driverless Car Summit.

AUVSI Presses DOT to Release Small UAS Proposed Rule
4 May 2012 

On 4 May, AUVSI President & CEO Michael Toscano sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood asking him to expedite the publication of the small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) notice of proposed rulemaking. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been examining the issue of allowing small UAS to fly in the airspace since 2008, when it formed an aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) to examine the issue. Although the ARC issued recommendations in 2009, the FAA has not yet released a proposed rule for public comment on how it will safely allow small UAS to fly in the civil airspace.

Congress, in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 - which was passed into law on 14 February - requires the secretary of Transportation to publish a final rule on allowing small UAS to fly in the airspace by mid-2014, with the safe integration of all civil UAS by 30 Sept. 2015. 

“The UAS industry believes the pending rule is urgently needed and will provide meaningful guidance to manufacturers and end users for design, construction and operation of small UAS to safely operate and deliver crucial services to law enforcement, agriculture and other sectors of the American economy.” said Toscano  in a letter to Secretary LaHood. “UAS will be the next big revolution in aviation; however, before this industry can really take off, we need rules from the FAA on how to safely operate alongside manned aircraft.”

AUVSI continues to actively engage with members of Congress, federal regulators, aviation stakeholders, potential users, and privacy groups to help educate about the importance of unmanned systems. 

AUVSI President & CEO Elected to NextGen Institute Management Council
20 April 2012 

On 19 April, AUVSI President & CEO Michael Toscano was elected to serve on the NextGen Institute Management Council (IMC), an industry board comprised of 17 senior leaders from the aviation community. The IMC gives direction and advice to the U.S. government’s development of the next generation air transportation system (otherwise known as NextGen). 

On being elected by a unanimous vote by his peers, Toscano said, “I’m honored to serve the IMC as the representative for the unmanned aircraft systems industry. Without a doubt, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) will play an increasing role in the National Airspace System, and NextGen will be required to safely integrate routine operation of UAS with manned platforms. I’m confident that in the near future, UAS operations will be an integral part of the NAS providing many benefits to commercial and civil users as our systems heighten the human’s situational awareness and help them do their jobs safer and more efficiently.”

The NextGen system will update our nation’s 50-plus year-old radar-based control system, with a satellite-based, precision navigation system that will allow for increased capacity while also increasing safety. As the airspace becomes more congested, it is important that pilots, air traffic controllers, and UAS operators, all work together to ensure sense and avoid capabilities are mastered.  Toscano said, “As the association representing the breadth of the UAS community, AUVSI will work with the other stakeholders of the IMC to ensure that NextGen incorporates seamless integration of UAS into the NAS and ensures safety for all aircraft.”

AUVSI Day on Capitol Hill Wraps Up National Robotics Week
By Brett Davis and Stephanie Levy
17 April, 2012 


AUVSI Day on Capitol Hill wrapped up National Robotics Week with congressional speakers and AUVSI-member exhibits highlighting the various uses for unmanned systems.

Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., cochair of the House Robotics Caucus, started the day with a breakfast speech in which he highlighted the many uses of unmanned systems, from the war zone to the hospital.

"In the past eight years, the U.S. Army has bought more than 7,000 robots and robotic devices for use in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has saved the lives of countless American soldiers," Doyle said.

Attendees had 65 meetings with 38 members of Congress during the event.

In the exhibit hall at the Rayburn House Office Building foyer, 16 exhibitors showcased the latest developments in unmanned systems and robotics, highlighting how members of Congress can get involved in the awareness and funding process. For example, engineers from Carnegie Mellon University demonstrated their snake robot, useful for building inspections, mine rescues and other jobs requiring the ability to move through tight spaces. A much smaller version of the coiling robotic critter is currently in use as a heart surgery tool.

"As robotics become more and more important in all our daily lives, not just the military, there are going to be some ethical and legal questions that come up about what the impact of robotics is going to be," said Alan Bignall, president and CEO of ReconRobotics. ReconRobotics literally tossed around it's Scout XT throwbot as part of a live demonstration for congressional members and staff.

Sea Air Space: Knifefish Surfaces, Fire Scout Fights On
By Stephanie Levy
16 April, 2012

General Dynamics has unveiled Knifefish, a new unmanned underwater vehicle for maritime countermine missions.

Capt. Duane Ashton of the U.S. Navy's Program Executive Office for the Littoral Combat Ship, helped the company unveil Knifefish on the first day of the Navy League's Sea Air Space conference on Monday at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland.

Ashton said Knifefish would be deployed as part of the LCS' mine countermeasures mission package to "detect, classify and identify mines."

"The whole goal is to be able to take the marine or the sailor out of that mine environment, and this is a great start to do that," Ashton said.

The system, scheduled to be in use on the Navy's Littoral Combat Ships by fiscal 2015, is a totally autonomous vehicle that can be deployed for up to 16 hours at a time. Knifefish locates mines planted at any depths using a slow frequency broadband sensor. The vehicle then relays that information back to the ship for post-mission analysis.

Ashton said this sensor makes the vehicle especially adept at locating crowded and buried underwater mines that the Navy can't currently locate. Knifefish can also monitor its own "health" in real-time.

"The purpose of the mine countermeasures program is to provide that standoff, to have the unmanned systems to into the mine field in terms of mine hunting, then be able to identify the mine, report the location of the mine and then go in and neutralize it," Ashton said.

In the air domain, Northrop Grumman highlighted the use of its Fire Scout unmanned helicopter to track pirates with new 3-D laser imaging technology. But those actually wanting to fly the Fire Scout will have to wait; the vehicle came under an operational pause after recent crashes. This means crews can still perform ground work on the vehicle, such as situation assessment and maintenance, as if Fire Scout was getting ready to fly, but it doesn't go up in the air.

"Grounding means red stripe. Grounded. It's a very subtle distinction," John VanBrabant, Campaign Lead-Tactical Unmanned Systems for Northrop Grumman, said. "They are in operational pause while the Navy does mishap investigation."

In all, the three-day event features more than 170 exhibitors.

Brookings Panel Addresses UAS Privacy Concerns
By Danielle Lucey
5 April, 2012 

Brookings photoWith the 30 Sept., 2015, deadline to give unmanned systems access to airspace looming, members of the privacy rights community are expressing concern about the possibility that “drones” may soon be flying down your street, into your backyard and peering into your home. 

However, a panel discussion recently put together by The Brooking Institution, filled with its own fellows, a staff attorney from the ACLU and a fellow from the Heritage Foundation, seemed, in essence, to agree: All things in moderation. 

Many panelists acknowledged the technology’s impressiveness and cool factor, saying that although privacy concerns should be acknowledged, this technology also needs room to grow. 

“Are there measures that can be effective that will minimize any negative impact on the legitimate users of drones, which are of course are the vast majority?” asked John Villasenor, a nonresident senior fellow for Brookings and also and professor of electrical engineering at UCLA. Villasenor says he suspects the solution to this will be technological. 

“The presence of challenges regarding privacy, safety and national security don’t mean that we should forgo many of the beneficial domestic uses of unmanned aviation systems,” he concluded. 

Kenneth Anderson, a nonresident senior fellow for Brookings and a professor of law at American University, said though many people in the United States claim to be very guarded about their privacy, few people, especially from younger generations, blink an eye at sharing their life on social media networking sites. 

“One the one hand, we wind up insisting we have the right to essentially turn the world away, even at the electronic level, but at the same time we share so much,” said Anderson. “I don’t think we can actually talk about drones in relations to their impacts on these other areas … unless we talk instead about the prior expectations we have for privacy.”

Much like the current state of the unmanned systems industry, the now prolific — and equally privacy invading — Internet once was, and to a large extent still is, a privacy advocate’s nightmare. So what lessons learned could the unmanned systems industry possibly take from the boom the Internet experienced? If unmanned systems grow as quickly as the World Wide Web, the panelists agreed that it would be impossible to foresee all the regulations necessary to ensure citizens’ privacy. 

“With drones I think it would be presumptuous for any of us to sit here and know that 15 years from now we could sit here today and say exactly what those are going to be, so I think humility with respect to acknowledging what we can’t predict is probably important as we move forward,” said Villasenor. 

A few fears addressed by the panelists do seem impossible given the current state of UAV technology. Panelists agreed that unmanned systems posed a different threat than manned aircraft, because few people or even police can afford their own Cessna or helicopter to keep an eye on their community. But with cheaper unmanned systems, virtually anyone could keep an eye in the sky for days or even years.

Realistically, however, most unmanned systems that people could afford are very small and low in weight, quadrotors and small hand-launched fixed-wing systems that rarely have a flight time of more than 30 minutes with current technology. Not to mention, many unmanned systems of this size are often compared flying lawn mowers, noisy and hardly currently capable of being inconspicuous.

Anderson also relayed a story of how in the early days of caller ID, the Pennsylvania branch of the ACLU was strictly opposed to the idea that the freedom of speech could be denied by allowing others to simply not pick up the ringer to hear what a person had to say. This idea is laughable now, says Anderson, and perhaps one day the idea of concern over unmanned systems and privacy might be too. 

Some members of the audience wondered if it was the Federal Aviation Administration’s place to address privacy issues. 

“I can imagine no worse forum for discussing privacy concerns than the FAA. It’s not built for that,” said the Heritage Foundation’s Paul Rosenzweig. “It’s like asking the EPA to think about national security concerns. … I do think that the privacy issues are vital, and if you don’t think about them you’ll get the wrong answer because you’ll end up losing all public support. … but the FAA is great at safety issues. It’s great at air traffic control issues. … But I would want that privacy discussion to happen somewhere else.”

He also warned of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” where unmanned systems would be prohibited from applications they’re very well suited for, like post-disaster surveillance.

“To my mind, the right answer is regulation,” said Rosenzweig. “We should authorize the good uses and be very cautious and careful about the bad uses.”

Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said she is concerned that police could readily obtain unmanned systems but the public at large might be more restricted, meaning the police could monitor citizens, but citizens would have a harder time using unmanned systems as a tool for holding government accountable.

Brookings Senior Fellow and moderator Benjamin Wittes wondered if that was a fair assessment, wanting unmanned systems as a public instead of a civil tool as well.

“I was struck when you were talking. It’s arguably not a contradiction, but it’s certainly an anomaly,” he said. 

Perhaps the most telling event of the panel occurred when moderator Wittes turned over the panel to questions. 

“I should have mentioned this at the outset, but this event is being webcast,” said Wittes, to laughter from the audience. “So we have a group of people who are surveilling this, not from a drone.” Wittes pointed to a seemingly autonomously pivoting camera eye, broadcasting the event. “Although that thing over there which keeps turning and sensing is eerily familiar.”

To watch the full hour and a half discussion, broadcast on C-SPAN, click here

iRobot Sends UGVs to South Carolina Nuclear Plant
By Stephanie Levy
3 April, 2012 

IRobot’s PackBot and Warrior unmanned ground vehicles will travel to the H.B. Robinson Nuclear Plant near Hartsville, S.C., to perform routine and periodic maintenance on the plant. Utility company Progress Energy purchased one Warrior and two PackBot systems from the Massachusetts-based company. IRobot delivered the PackBots to the plant in 2011, and the Warrior robot followed in February 2012.

“Robots mitigate risk by keeping personnel out of radioactive environments and serve as a cost-effective way to perform operations. IRobot is excited about growing its presence in this market,” said Tim Trainer, iRobot’s interim general manager of the Military Robots business unit, in an April press release.

Trainer says Progress Energy had already successfully tested the robots in routine maintenance tasks around the plant. IRobot provided on-site training to Progress Energy workers using the systems.

IRobot systems got a high-profile start in nuclear plant missions when they helped with cleanup at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan in March 2011. Trainer says the difference between the Fukushima job and the work PackBot and Warrior will do at the H.B. Robinson Nuclear Plant is that the domestic robots will not be working in a disaster situation where there are multiple unknowns. For more on how iRobot helped Japan recover from natural disaster, check out the summer 2011 issue of Mission Critical.

“The operations with Progress are routine, sustained. There are processes for accomplishing those requirements,” Trainer said in an interview with AUVSI. “Robots replace [people] more efficiently, safely with less exposure.”

Trainer says iRobot will continue looking for ways to leverage its robots in the domestic energy market. In a nuclear environment, robots allow their operators to stay in a safe location while they go into hazardous or dangerous environments.

“We need to show the success with Progress and work with those operators to show them the value of robotics in their facilities,” Trainer says. “We’re excited about getting into the industrial markets. This is one piece of the market in the nuclear field that portends the larger use of robotics in industry.”

What is Your Vision of Driverless Cars? Enter AUVSI's Driverless Car Film Fest Contest
2 April 2012

AUVSI’s Driverless Car Summit 2012 is hosting a film festival to explore the potential societal aspects of driverless cars. Use your creative side to help promote the idea of driverless cars by 2022!

Background: Driverless cars have the opportunity to revolutionize transportation in ways not seen in decades. The potential impacts to society are numerous but not well understood.

Objective: Create a video that explores the potential societal impacts of driverless cars.

Need Inspiration? Visit these sites to get your creative juices flowing! Additionally, the Driverless Car Summit website will be adding background information on driverless cars.

Blind man in a driverless car:
Sebastian Thruun TED talk on Google Driverless Car:
Driverless car interior view:

Judging: Eligible submissions will be posted to the AUVSI Youtube page. The

Driverless Car Summit committee will select the top submissions. These submissions will be shown at the Driverless Car Summit in Detroit, 12-13 June 2012. Attendees from the summit will vote on the second day of the summit and the winner will be announced at the closing reception.

• Uploadable to, meeting all appropriate policies
• 3 minutes or less
• Nothing inappropriate and judged by the committee (language, behavior, images, etc)

Winners Prize Money:
1st place: $5,000
2nd place: $1,500
3rd place: $500
Fans Choice (most YouTube hits): $500

Visit the Film Festival website for more information.

Researchers, Officials Chart the Way Ahead at Israel Conference

By Brett Davis
20 March, 2012 

Unmanned aircraft are growing closer to routinely flying in unsegregated airspace, an issue that drew the attention of several speakers at AUVSI Israel Chapter's first international conference, held 20-22 March in Tel Aviv.

Israel itself has created new regulations for small unmanned aircraft, a relatively rapid development for a country where all UAS were under complete military control as recently as 2005.

Flights are permissible now as long as the manufacturers can demonstrate safety, says Benny Davidor of Israel's Civil Aviation Authority. Several UAS builders and operators have applied for certifications, and although they haven't yet been approved, that's coming, he says.

"Right now we are starting to see a big wave ... of people who want to buy civil equipment to do civil work," mainly for aerial photography, he says.

Israel's experience may not translate well to other countries, several speakers noted, as it has some unique circumstances. Aside from a small pocket of air around Tel Aviv, all of Israel's skies are managed by the military, which can track everything moving within them. That, coupled with Israel's small size, makes it comparatively easy to integrate UAS.

Other countries are moving forward as well. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration is working under a new 2015 deadline for UAS integration, with smaller vehicles slated to fly even before that.

In Europe, EUROCAE's Working Group 73, which is devoted to integration issues, has set up another committee, Working Group 93, specifically to handle small UAS, says EUROCAE Chairman Tore Kallevig. The flights would be at altitudes of less than 400 feet and within visual range of the operator.

Overall, the working groups plan to gain access to airspace incrementally, Kallevig says, not all at once.

"We need to do this step by step," he said. "We have realized that we need to take a certain scenario, make a certain set of assumptions, and create the standards based on that."

Robots Escape the Cage

Charles Thorpe, assistant director for advanced manufacturing and robotics at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said unmanned aircraft aren't the only robotic systems that could be put to wider use. He said the White House backs a push to incorporate more robots into collaboration with humans instead of keeping them behind cages on factory floors.

"That's good for safety but bad for collaboration," he said.

The way to do that, he says, is by increasing their intelligence and autonomy, part of the thrust of the National Robotics initiative launched by the White House.

"One way that you build your cooperation strategies is to make your robots so smart that you can put the people next to them without worry of injury."

The NRI, through multiple federal agencies, has posted a call for research on ways to build robots that work with people instead of competing with them, he says. It drew more than 700 responses.

"If you receive a proposal from every researcher in America, who's going to review the proposals?" he asked.

The conference has drawn an audience of around 650 attendees, mostly from Israel, although there are 80 attendees from abroad representing a total of 18 countries.

HRI 2012: Graduating Robots from the Lab

By Stephanie Levy

ACM/IEEE's Human Robot Interaction (HRI) 2012 conference in Boston highlighted the need for academics to tailor their robotics research for applications in the real world.

"Lab demos that you do with robots often make non-obvious simplifying assumptions that do not hold when you get out into the real world," Rodney Brooks, MIT's Panasonic Professor of Robotics (emeritus), said in his keynote address to open the conference. "If we do our job right, we'll allow ordinary people to control and program cheap, sophisticated robots."

Attendees saw some of these "real world" applications for robotics in the conference's exhibition hall. For instance, Aldebaran Robotics introduced attendees to Nao, a humanoid robot designed to teach K-12 students STEM principles It can even be programmed to dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

"Our curriculum used in conjunction with Nao allows students to develop a structured approach to finding solutions and adapting a wide range of cross-sectional educational content," the company says in a press release.

In a panel on robotic telepresence moderated by AUVSI's Senior Program Development Manager Lindsay Voss, experts from Willow Garage, VGo and the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University in Japan discusssed advances in telepresence technology, and what they mean for end users. For instance, VGo CEO Peter Vicars said the company's original focus was "providing telepresence for the business world enterprise." But recently the company has seen children with a disability use their robot as a surrogate to attend school and interact with other kids in daily life.

"These are the kids who stay at home, can't go to school, miss out on everything  you've had with going to school," Vicars said "[With] the robots in the school, they drive the robot from home, they attend school, they go from class to class, they go to lunch and they have a life. Moms tell us 'You changed my child's life.'"

Other papers shared at HRI demonstrated uses for robots as surgical assistants, museum guides and interactive toys for children.

FAA Starts UAS Test Site Selection Process
March 8, 2012


On 7 March, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a request for public comment on the selection process for six unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test sites (comments due by 9 May), following Congressional language in both a defense spending bill (passed 31 Dec. 2011), and the FAA reauthorization bill (passed 14 Feb. 2012), requiring the FAA to create six UAS test sites around the United States. However, before the FAA issues a request for proposals to select the actual test sites, the FAA first needs help developing the test site requirements, designation standards, and oversight activities. 

Along with creating UAS test sites, Congress also called for the full integration of UAS by 30 Sept. 2015. So, in addition to allowing for more UAS operations, including by commercial operators, the goal of the test sites is to help the FAA develop the regulatory framework to govern the widespread use of UAS in the national airspace. 

“Unmanned aircraft will be the next big revolution in the aerospace industry, and the creation of these test sites will mark the beginning of what will one day be a common occurrence, manned and unmanned aircraft safely flying together in the same airspace” said AUVSI President & CEO Michael Toscano. “AUVSI applauds Congress’s foresight on creating these test sites, and looks forward to working with the FAA, aviation stakeholders, and the general public, to ensure UAS operations are conducted in a safe and transparent manner.” 

There are currently dozens of non-military uses of unmanned systems, including the use for law enforcement, firefighting, border surveillance, disaster surveillance, aerial photography, wildlife monitoring, agriculture applications, news coverage, mapping and more. The field of unmanned systems is changing rapidly, that it is likely we have not fully comprehended all of the potential uses. However, one thing is clear unmanned systems are here to stay.

The public comment period will be open for 60 days following the official publication in the federal register on Friday, 9 March. Responses will be limited to 2.5 pages per question, with a maximum response of 20 pages (using 12pt font size). 

Singapore Airshow 2012: American Companies Stand Their Ground, Asia-Pacific and Israel Stand Up New UAVs

By Danielle Lucey

This year’s Singapore Airshow 2012, held in the Asia-Pacific city-state in February, featured many companies from the region touting their new and emerging aircraft, while many U.S. companies maintained a presence but had little new wares and product releases. 
Unmanned systems companies from Europe and Israel focused on partnering with companies in the region and improving the capabilities of their current unmanned lineup. 

One of the most conspicuous unmanned systems at the show came from Elbit Systems, which showed off its Hermes 900 full-sized model debut at the show. The Hermes 900 has a larger payload bay, extended flight time and flexible payload configurations. 

“Especially when budgets are being cut, you need something versatile,” says Elad Aharonson, executive vice president and general manager for Elbit Systems’ UAS division. 

The company previously sold the Hermes 450 to Singapore and would like to follow that up with the 900. 

The company also released a new hyperspectral imaging sensor, useful for conditions which electro-optical or thermal imaging is not enough, says Aharonson. 

“We believe with the UAV business, it’s very important to have a good aircraft, but this is only the beginning of the story,” says Aharonson. 

The product could be useful in both the military and the civilian sectors, in applications like searching for shallow land mines, says Aharonson. 

Swedish company CybAero has experience selling to the Asia-Pacific region through a partnership the company has with local dealer Stratech Systems. The company would like to expand its sales to China’s civil market, the only sector that is clear for export, says Niklas Nyroth, director of sales and marketing for CybAero. 

“The Chinese market is an extremely hot market,” he says. 

The company’s prime UAV, the Apid 60 vertical takeoff and landing system, is a multipurpose aircraft that can also be used in the maritime environment. 

By far the largest booth presence at the show was Singapore’s homegrown ST Engineering. Its ST Aerospace division showed the company’s Skyblade IV, which will go into production in the second half of 2012, according to Milly Tay, vice president of the company’s UAV Business sector. Two years prior at the Singapore air show, the product was undergoing testing with no release date in sight. The company also showed its new Skyblade 360, which is still under development. The craft will run for three hours in a battery configuration, which ST Aerospace hopes to release sometime in 2013. A second configuration of the aircraft, using a fuel cell battery, will be in the works after that, says Tay. 

Unmanned systems companies from America were scarcer at the show, with many hot-selling brands conspicuously missing; however, many of the companies that did maintain a presence were the U.S.’ behemoth-sized defense contractors. 

Northrop Grumman’s Walt Kreitler, the company’s director of business development, reinforced the company’s commitment to its Global Hawk, particularly the U.S. Navy’s continued backing of its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program. The maritime-rated Block 20 variant was not a part of the recent U.S. budget cuts, like the company’s Block 30. The company even plans on making one more BAMS version of the Global Hawk than the Navy is asking for, Kreitler says, for now, just so the company can have one. 

Like Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk, Honeywell’s T-Hawk had a high-profile role in Asia when it aided in response to the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Jesse Ellis, director of program management for the company’s Asia-Pacific aftermarket in its Defense and Space sector, said that Japan has realized from that event that the country doesn’t have the capability to perform the duties T-Hawk provided with a homegrown system. Honeywell has been talking to a number of Asia-Pacific customers, and the company would like to make the T-Hawk available to them for applications like fire fighting and emergency response. 

President Obama Signs FAA Bill into Law
Starting the Clock on the FAA’s UAS Integration Efforts
Feburary 14, 2012

President Obama sent a Valentine’s Day present to the aviation community, including the unmanned systems industry, signing the long-overdue Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bill into law on 14 Feb., which includes important provisions on the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace system.

The last time Congress passed an FAA bill was in 2003, when UAS were just starting to show their value and viability in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In recognition of how fast UAS technology is advancing, in addition to the huge potential civil and commercial market, Congress included language requiring the FAA to expedite the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace. Congress set a deadline of 30 Sept. 2015 for full integration. Start the clock!

“Technology is advancing to the point where we now know these systems can reliably fly. The next step is to work on the regulations that govern the rules of the sky to ensure that unmanned aircraft do no harm to other manned aircraft or to people or property on the ground,” said AUVSI’s President and CEO, Michael Toscano. “We applaud the foresight of Congress and look forward to working with the FAA to implement these requirements.”

Some of the major UAS provisions in the FAA bill include:

  • Setting a 30 Sept., 2015 deadline for full integration of UAS into the national airspace
  • Requiring a comprehensive integration plan within nine months
  • Requiring the FAA to create a five-year UAS roadmap (which should be updated annually)
  • Requiring small UAS (under 55lbs) to be allowed to fly within 27 months
  • Requiring six UAS test sites within six months (similar to the language in the already-passed defense bill)
  • Requiring small UAS (under 55lbs) be allowed to fly in the U.S. Arctic, 24 hours a day, beyond line-of-sight, at an altitude of at least 2,000 feet, within one year
  • Requiring expedited access for public users, such as law enforcement, firefighters, emergency responders
  • Allowing first responders to fly very small UAS (4.4lbs or less) within 90 days if they meet certain requirements. The goal is to get law enforcement and firefighters immediate access to start flying small systems to save lives and increase public safety. Although 4.4lbs doesn’t sound like a lot, there are numerous platforms available that meet this requirement.
  • Requiring the FAA to study UAS human factors and causes of accidents

The bill also includes an exemption for model aircraft, as long as the aircraft weighs less than 55lbs and follows a set of community-based safety standards

NASA’s FY 2013 Request Axes Robotic Martian Exploration

By Brett Davis

NASA’s fiscal 2013 budget request of $17.7 billion includes a reduction of $226 million to robotic exploration of Mars, forcing the aerospace agency to scrap the planned U.S.-European ExoMars program.

That program initially called for a pair of rovers, then a single rover, but NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Feb. 13 that it was still a “flagship” effort the agency couldn’t afford.

"There’s no doubt that tough decisions had to be made,” he said at a budget briefing.

NASA budget documents say that a new cross-discipline team from the Science Mission Directorate, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and the Office of the Chief Technologist will meet with European partners to plan new, and smaller, missions to accomplish much the same science. The team has a deadline dictated by the heavens: Mars will be closer to Earth between 2018 and 2020, when the new missions would need to launch. The agency plans to outline the first mission under this new approach in next year’s budget request.

“What we are doing with our partners is now walking away at all,” Bolden said. Instead, NASA will “take the limited funds that are available and restructure a reasonable robotic Mars exploration strategy.”

NASA’s Opportunity rover is still plugging away on the red planet and the Curiosity rover, part of the Mars Science Laboratory mission, is on the way, and two orbiters continue to send data.

“For someone to say we’re walking away from Mars with the largest rover not even there yet, I don’t think that makes sense,” Bolden said. However, NASA “found that we could not afford the path that we were on.”

DOD Budget

As defense officials have been outlining for weeks now, the fiscal 2013 budget attempts to stem defense growth over the coming decade, which affects several specific programs, including popular unmanned ones. There are plenty of unmanned systems in the budget but not as many as had once been planned.

The U.S. Navy is going to stretch out the program to fly unmanned aircraft off of aircraft carriers, known as UCLASS, said Rear Adm. Joseph Mulloy. He said the ongoing demonstration program will continue a little longer and the initial operational capability date will slip from 2018 to 2020.

The Navy’s Medium-Range Maritime Unmanned Aerial System (MRMUAS), which had barely gotten started, has been canceled and that need will be filled by the MQ-8B Fire Scout and its follow-on, the MQ-8C. The Fire Scout has been performing well enough in theater that “it was deemed a manageable risk to terminate the MRMUAS program in FY 2013,” budget documents say. The budget also begins the purchases of the Small Tactical UAS (STUAS), with five systems a year planned over the next three years.

The U.S. Air Force seeks to cut the Block 30 Global Hawk in favor of the existing U-2 manned spy plane, although the budget would still buy the first three NATO Global Hawks and three Broad Area Maritime Surveillance versions, for a total cost of nearly $1.3 billion.

Aircraft acquisition in general is down. Purchases of Air Force Reaper UAS and Army Gray Eagle UAS would drop from 91 in fiscal 2012 to 43 in FY ’12, or 24 Reapers and 19 Gray Eagles. The overall budget goes from $2.1 billion in FY ’12 to $1.9 billion.

“The FY 2013 program sustains 65 MQ-1/9 combat air patrols with a surge capability to 85; retains the Predator longer than previously planned, protects funding for the Army’s Gray Eagle, and continues the development of new capabilities. The Department has determined that 24 MQ-9 Reaper aircraft adequately support 65 combat air patrols and has reduced the procurement of the MQ-9 Reaper by 24 aircraft and reinvested the funds in ground stations,” according to budget documents.

Buys of the RQ-7 Shadow and smaller RQ-11 Raven are also down. From a buy of 900 Ravens last year, the Army would acquire 234 in fiscal 2013. Many of the aircraft are still in the pipeline, however, and the overall budget drops less precipitously, from $294.5 million in FY ’12 to $228 million in FY ’13. The Air Force research and technology budget includes $292 million for studying an optionally manned, long-range bomber, which would ramp up to a total of $6.3 billion over the next five years.

Congress Weighs In

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill will take up the fiscal 2013 budget request beginning 14 Feb., and battle lines are already being drawn.

Some lawmakers with oversight of NASA have already decried NASA’s withdrawal from ExoMars, and Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said at last week’s AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems Program Review 2012 that he wants to review the decision on the Global Hawk Block 30.

AUVSI Urges Congress to Consider Advantages of Unmanned Systems while Reviewing 2013 Defense Budget

By Melanie Hinton

As the Obama Administration prepares to release its fiscal 2013 defense budget, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) applauds the commitment to maintain and increase the use of unmanned systems and urges Congress to carefully consider the advantages provided by the technology.

"As Congress begins work on the budget, we urge lawmakers to consider the unique value proposition that unmanned systems bring to the table," says AUVSI President and CEO Michael Toscano. "In many cases they can extend the warfighter's reach and provide invaluable situational awareness."

The Strategic Defense Review, as described by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, calls for a continued reliance on new technology, including armed and unarmed unmanned systems, as the military increasingly focuses on security in the Asia-Pacific region and strengthens and forges alliances with other nations around the world.

Unmanned systems have proven their operation value both in military and humanitarian operations in the past few years, showing that they excel in tackling dull, dirty, dangerous and difficult missions, often more effectively and inexpensively than manned systems. Secretary Panetta said recently that unmanned systems are one area of investment protected over the next five years, as they are a key element in supporting a more agile force.

Program Review Maritime Day: Greater Automation at New Depths

By Stephanie Levy

AUVSI's Unmanned Systems Program Review 2012 wrapped up with maritime day, highlighting military and civil demand for interoperable, high-payload, low-cost autonomous underwater vehicles.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, kicked off the morning by lauding the accomplishments of unmanned systems in disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill and the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster in Japan and called on industry to work with government to do more.

"As the unmanned systems garnered interest on the Hill, it's prime time to educate members of the benefits of unmanned systems," Cuellar told the crowd of more than 200 attendees from the military, government, industry and academia. Unmanned systems “provide the incentive priorities for the private sector, which is so important."

For Capt. Evin Thompson, branch head of Naval Special Warfare in the Navy’s Expeditionary Warfare Division, the current benefit of unmanned systems for Navy SEAL and special operations lies in the number of lives saved and their effectiveness in theater. The next steps are monitoring the Strait of Hormuz near Iran and improving antimine warfare.

“Using those systems for underwater reconnaissance, how do we do this effectively? How do you have those communication systems?” Thompson asked, stressing that for him, the human benefit of unmanned systems outweighs the financial cost.

“I could care less if unmanned systems go down,” Thompson said. “We need to really think about this: I’m going to put guys on target, and I want to give them the protection of an eye in the sky.”

Capt. Duane Ashton says the Navy is currently testing an unmanned influence sweep system in the Gulf of Mexico that should be ready for full production by fiscal year 2017. The Navy is also working on the Knifefish, a 21-inch UUV that uses low-frequency capability to go after buried and crowded mines.

"We want to be able to take mine sweeping now but we want to be able to get into mine hunting as well," Ashton said.

On the civil side, the afternoon focused on the uses of unmanned vehicles and robotics in the oil and gas industry. Thomas Chance, president and CEO of C&C Technologies, said remotely operated vehicles expand the reach of oil rigs to operate in deep water, since human divers can only operate at depths up to 1,000 feet. C&C will conduct an AUV survey off the coast of Mozambique this year, with the help of armed guards from the Mozambique army.

The future of autonomy in the oil and gas industry is target recognition, or “being able to position yourself in a map of the world,” said Bob Black, CEO of SeeByte. To do this, ROVs must apply “sophisticated algorithms to pick out targets of interest."

"We start off with a map of the infrastructure that we want to look at ... and we know the relative positions of the different components," Black said. "In an oil and gas context, it could be a pipeline on a seabed, it could be a riser carrying hydrocarbons to the surface, or it may be a well head."

SeeByte is collaborating with Subsea7 to deploy a new autonomous inspection vehicle, or AIV. It's the first commercial AIV on the market that will do independent autonomous inspection work. Black said he sees the practical application of the system for rapid integrity assurance of subsea facilities after natural disasters like hurricanes or cyclones. SeeByte and Subsea7 will host the first official offshore launch of the AIV technology this April in Houston.

Also, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it is embarking on a climate change study collaboration with NASA and the space agency of Argentina. The two-year effort will cost $10-20 million. NOAA will use unmanned gliders, along with a host of other technologies, to study the salinity of ocean water. In all, NOAA has 80 gliders as part of a nonfederal partnership.

“We want to make sure folks know where that data is,” said Zdenka Willis, director of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System Program office for NOAA. “We stream it into the various oceanographic models the Navy uses. We’ve got to educate our next generation of how important the oceans are and how it relates to our lives here.”

Jeff Kline from the Consortium for Robotics and Unmanned Systems at the Naval Postgraduate School closed the day with a message of opportunity. CRUSER is crowd-sourcing ideas for the “next big thing” in unmanned systems; individuals can submit “any thesis topic you might be interested in for a student or faculty member to start the work on,” Kline said. CRUSER will hold a technological symposium showcasing these proposals sometime in 2012-2013.


Program Review Air Day: Budget Concerns, Program Updates

By Brett Davis

Signaling the opening of pending arguments over future defense spending, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he's concerned about a pending defense drawdown, which he said would unfairly target the defense budget.

McKeon was the opening speaker at AUVSI's Unmanned Systems Program Review 2012. He said he has mixed feelings about Air Force plans to cancel Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk Block 30 program and instead soldier on with the venerable U-2 manned aircraft for spy missions.

"It's a little proprietary for me," he said, as the U-2 was developed in his district, but the Global Hawk is also built there. "It's not like I think one's better than the other because [of] what it does for my district, but I'm looking forward to a longer conversation about this subject," he said. "I want to understand how 50-year-old technology beats modern unmanned technology. It comes down to numbers and dollars and cents, I guess, but I need to have a further conversation about that to see how that works."

McKeon's presentation was briefly interrupted by Code Pink protester Medea Benjamin, who hopped on the stage to protest "killer drones." McKeon quipped that he has many grandchildren and is used to being interrupted.

Meeting Demand

Other speakers at the program's Air Systems Day highlighted the fact that unmanned aircraft are taking on new roles, such as cargo resupply, even as their existing roles are being beefed up with advanced sensors and other equipment.

Lt. Gen. Larry James, deputy chief of staff for ISR at the U.S. Air Force, said new sensor packages are resulting in "huge" amounts of data. One new sensor platform, for instance, ARGUS-IS, is capable of generating 87 years' worth of full-motion video "every single day." The demand for unmanned combat air patrols has been such that the service has backed down from last fall's surge to 65 CAPS and is on "a gradual backdown to 57 CAPs, frankly so we can reconstitute … to create more pilots," he said.

Richard Kretzschmar, the U.S. Army's new deputy project manager for unmanned aircraft, said the agency is beefing up its Shadow, moving ahead to develop a new small aircraft family and developing an unmanned helicopter in conjunction with the U.S. Navy. The service is also working to demonstrate its ground-based sense-and-avoid capability, although it has now moved that effort from El Mirage, Calif., where night flights were conducted last year, to Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, where controlled airspace can be used. The Army plans to start conducting demonstrations there this summer.

One new use for unmanned aircraft is cargo resupply, which the U.S. Marine Corps is demonstrating in Afghanistan with the Lockheed Martin-Kaman unmanned K-Max, where it's supporting three forward operating bases. The aircraft was delivered to the area in the middle of December, and "we've been flying it ever since," said Lt. Col. Brad "Myrtle" Beach, the UAS coordinator at the Marine Corps aviation headquarters. "It's doing quite well for us."

The system is not only able to replace some manned convoys, as it did on a recent delivery of some engines, but it can also operate in dusty weather conditions that make it difficult to drive. To date, it has racked up 94 sorties, flying more than 100 hours and delivering 155,000 pounds of equipment.


Several speakers noted that the new Federal Aviation Administration reathorization bill calls for unmanned aircraft to be integrated by 2015. They also noted that this represents a significant challenge.

"Can it be done? It's a significant challenge," said Joe Sciabica, executive director of the Air Force Research Laboratory. "Can it be done? I think so. I think it can but we have to collectively come together in a partnership to solve this. … You can't look at it and say, OK, the Air Force is going to solve it; the Marine Corps is going to solve it. If everybody is doing it, nobody's doing it."


Several speakers pointed out program highlights to expect this year:
• Northrop Grumman's Fire Scout will fire a weapon for the first time
• The Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft is expected to have its first flight, leading to a more capable system than the current demonstrator aircraft (both are based on the Global Hawk UAS)
• The Department of Homeland Security will launch a demonstrator program aimed at transitioning unmanned aircraft to the nation's first responders.

Program Review Ground Day: Leveraging Current Technologies and Standards

By Danielle Lucey and Stephanie Levy

Day one of AUVSI's Unmanned Systems Program Review kicked off with a special address from Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, who talked about the steps Congress has taken to make unmanned vehicles more available to the warfighter. 

"Part of the challenge today is we're looking at these deficits. We’re looking at reductions for out military, but I have to think the capability for using unmanned systems will not only be a force multiplier but a way to maximize our capability to protect our homeland and protect our military in places like Afghanistan," Reyes said.

Reyes pointed to the example in Fallujah, Iraq, where soldiers once had a difficult time patrolling the city because of the risk of snipers. Ultimately, ground robotics became a theater mainstay that reduced that risk.

Reyes also addressed the growing demand for unmanned vehicles in the civil sector. The next step on the congressional level is working with federal agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration to create laws for unmanned vehicles. Reyes also said he sees potential in driverless cars to "save lives and money."

"Part of the challenge is to make sure ... that there is a focus on not just science and the STEM fields, but that you recognize that this country's greatest strength is diversity," Reyes said. 

Tightening Budgets
With many speakers addressing an anticipated down year in government ground robotics spending, common themes emerged of doing more with less and what the community already has. 

Chief Scientist for the U.S. Army Scott Fish said that despite unmanned ground vehicles evolving into a necessity for soldiers, fielding will likely experience a downturn, so the community needs to leverage a lot of the advances its made in the last decade.

“Although we’ve done all these interesting things, our current fiscal climate is probably not going to allow us to continue fielding … the way we’ve been doing,” he said. 

Rob Maline, director, for the Joint Ground Robotics Enterprise, echoed Fish’s budget projections, showing a slide from the past few years that showed a downtrend in JGRE’s budget. 

“I will tell you that this trend line for the JGRE budget is moving in the same direction [this year],” he said.  

Scott Davis, of the Program Executive Office, Ground Combat Systems for the U.S. Army discussed leveraging the requirements already defined in the manned ground platform community to help define the needs of unmanned systems and that the needs of those communities are on a path toward convergence.

“Probably initially there wasn’t as great a fit, but as you look at the way we’re going in the future I think you’ll see larger overlaps.”

Manned platforms are increasingly being outfitted with sensors and sensor management in a way that resembles how unmanned platforms are outfitted, albeit with fewer limitations. 

“As we talk about autonomy it’s something that’s been in the fore of robotics for a while, but I think that’s something we’re going to see spill over into the manned systems.”

He also addressed turning platforms that were rapidly fielded when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ramped up and turning those projects into programs of record to ensure sustainable funding dollars. 

Many speakers spoke of trying to leverage the testing and evaluation community to help push technology fielding. 
Scott Fish said absent of a predictive safety protocol, moving technology forward will be difficult. 

“I’m not blaming that community; it’s not their problem alone,” he said. “It’s something we have to work together, but it’s a fact.”

Fish said the current leadership is not confident in autonomy yet and to advance this the military community needs to move in step with the test community so there is a common strategy. 

Counter-IED Challenge
Steve Cox, principle deputy to the deputy director of rapid acquisition and technology at JIEDDO, announced during his presentation a counter-IED challenge that will be held in conjuction with the Army’s Robotics Rodeo, slated to occur in June at Fort Benning, Ga.

The challenge will consist of four parts: endurance; reconnaissance; detect, specifically the ability to detect trigger mechanisms; and disrupt, technologies that would disruptive IED but not blow up the robot. More information on the challenge can be found on JIEDDO’s website at


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U.S. House and Senate Pass FAA Bill, Setting Requirements for UAS to Fly in the National Airspace
The bill awaits President Obama’s signature
By Ben Gielow 2/6/2012

AUVSI applauds the U.S. Senate for passing the FAA bill conference agreement, following the House’s passage on 3 Feb. The bill now awaits President Obama’s signature before it becomes law. Once enacted, the bill starts the clock on a number of deadlines the FAA must meet to safely integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace system. Chief among them is a deadline for full integration by 30 Sept. 2015.

The UAS industry has made tremendous technological advancements since Congress last passed an FAA bill in 2003, and this legislation recognizes the important role UAS will play in the future air transportation system.  Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee, said, “by setting requirements and deadlines for FAA rules for the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems, the conference report also unlocks the potential for private sector job creation here at home that has so far been stalled by government inaction.”

In praising Congress’s passage of the bill, AUVSI’s President & CEO Michael Toscano said, “UAS are truly a revolutionary-type technology, and I’m confident that once people can fly UAS in the national airspace for civil and commercial purposes, such as oil and pipeline monitoring, crop dusting, and search and rescue, a whole new industry will emerge, inventing products and accomplishing tasks we haven’t even thought of yet.” 

Some of the major UAS provisions AUVSI helped draft and advocate for inclusion in the bill include:

•Setting a 30 Sept. 2015 deadline for full integration of UAS into the national airspace;
•Requiring a comprehensive integration plan within nine months;
•Requiring the FAA to create a five-year UAS roadmap (which should be updated annually);
•Requiring small UAS (under 55lbs) to be allowed to fly within 27 months;
•Requiring six UAS test sites within six months (similar to the language in the already-passed Defense Authorization bill);
•Requiring small UAS (under 55lbs) be allowed to fly in the U.S. Arctic, 24-hours-a-day, beyond line-of-sight, at an altitude of at least 2,000 ft, within one year;
•Requiring expedited access for public users, such as law enforcement, firefighters, emergency responders, etc.;
•Allowing first responders to fly very small UAS (4.4lbs or less) within 90 days if they meet certain requirements;
?The goal is to get law enforcement and firefighters immediate access to start flying small systems to save lives and increase public safety.
•Requiring the FAA to study UAS human factors and causes of accidents; and
•Exempting model aircraft, so long as the aircraft weighs less than 55lbs and follows a set of community-based safety standards.

For more information about the FAA bill or the UAS test sites, contact our Advocacy Team at


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Congress Sets 2015 Deadline for Unmanned Aircraft Systems to Fly in the National Airspace
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a compromise FAA bill including UAS provisions
By Ben Gielow 2/2/2012

After five years, and 23 extensions, Congress is finally poised to put an FAA bill on the President’s desk for his signature.  For the first-time ever, Congress tasked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with coming up with a plan to safely expedite the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace system. AUVSI, the world’s largest non-profit trade association representing the unmanned systems industry, played an instrumental role in drafting and advocating for the UAS language in the bill.

 “Although unmanned aircraft have been around for decades, the rapid technological advancements made by the military in the past decade has matured the technology to the point where we now know we can safely fly UAS to accomplish those tasks that are too dangerous, difficult, dull, or expensive, for manned aircraft,” said AUVSI’s President & CEO Michael Toscano. “UAS are a revolutionary-type technology that will completely alter the way we think about aviation in the future, and this legislation marks the beginning for how the FAA will regulate this fast-evolving industry.”

Some of the major UAS provisions in the FAA bill include:

  • Setting a 30 Sept. 2015 deadline for full integration of UAS into the national airspace;
  • Requiring a comprehensive integration plan within nine months;
  • Requiring the FAA to create a five-year UAS roadmap (which should be updated annually);
  • Requiring small UAS (under 55lbs) to be allowed to fly within 27 months;
  • Requiring six UAS test sites within six months (similar to the language in the already-passed Defense Authorization bill);
  • Requiring small UAS (under 55lbs) be allowed to fly in the U.S. Arctic, 24-hours-a-day, beyond line-of-sight, at an altitude of at least 2,000 ft, within one year;
  • Requiring expedited access for public users, such as law enforcement, firefighters, emergency responders, etc.;
  • Allowing first responders to fly very small UAS (4.4lbs or less) within 90 days if they meet certain requirements;
    • The goal is to get law enforcement and firefighters immediate access to start flying small systems to save lives and increase public safety.
  • Requiring the FAA to study UAS human factors and causes of accidents; and
  • Exempting model aircraft, so long as the aircraft weighs less than 55lbs and follows a set of community-based safety standards.

The Senate is expected to pass its version of the FAA Bill early next week.

Panetta: Defense Budget Plans Will Support Agile, Capable Force

Defense officials gave another forecast of future defense spending changes on 26 Jan., including saying the Air Force Block 30 variant of Northrop Grumman's high-flying Global Hawk will be canceled.

“It's an example of the way that we need to pay attention to cost performance with a budget like the one we have,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said in a Pentagon briefing. “Block 30 was supposed to replace the U-2 for taking pictures from the air, and that was the idea, to do it with the UAV.”

However, he said, “The Block 30 priced itself out of the niche for taking pictures from the air. The Global Hawk became expensive, and that's the fate of things that become too expensive in a resource-constrained environment.”

Carter noted that the Block 40, Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) and NATO versions of the Global Hawk are unaffected by the change.

Northrop Grumman released a statement saying that while it's pleased about the fate of those variants, it's disappointed in the Block 30 move and plans to work with the Pentagon to “assess alternatives to program termination.”

It said the U-2 program is aging and  “places pilots in danger, has limited flight duration and provides limited sensor capacity. Extending the U-2’s service life also represents additional investment requirements for that program.”

Other Systems

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, speaking at an earlier briefing, said unmanned systems in general are one area of investment protected over the next five years, as they are one element needed to support a more agile force.

“What we're looking at is multimission weaponry and technology that can support that agile force,” Panetta said.

The pending five-year budget plan, to be revealed in February, calls for increasing defense spending to $567 billion by fiscal year 2017, rather than growing to the previously projected $622 billion, a reduction of $259 billion over five years.

“We have to retain a decisive technological edge,” Panetta said. “We have to retain the kind of leverage the lessons of recent conflict have given us.”

To that end, the budget protects “key components of the force that are adept in executing” the mission of counterterrorism, say budget documents released at the briefing. The budget maintains the people and platforms needed to sustain 65 Air Force combat air patrols using unmanned aircraft, with the ability to surge to 85 CAPs when needed. The budget also contains funding for sea-based systems such as Northrop Grumman's Fire Scout helicopter and “new unmanned systems with increased capabilities” for advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

However, it notes that Predator aircraft are being used longer than previously planned, which allows the DOD to slow the buy of larger, more advanced Reaper aircraft, although funding is retained for the U.S. Army's Gray Eagle UAS. All are built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

House Homeland Security Committee member Rep. Henry Cuellar to Address AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems Program Review
By: Mario D. Mairena 1/17/12

AUVSI confirms that Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security and co-chair of the House Unmanned Systems Caucus will be the luminary speaker for Maritime Systems Day on 9 Feb. at AUVSI's Unmanned Systems Program Review 2012.
“I am thrilled to attend AUVSI’s unmanned systems conference. We have seen the tremendous asset that unmanned vehicle systems have been for our homeland security agencies, especially along our Southwest border, and it is imperative that we continue exploring and expanding the many possibilities that this cutting-edge technology has to offer,” commented Rep. Cuellar upon confirming for USPR 2012.
“AUVSI is honored to have Congressman Cuellar as the luminary speaker on Maritime Day for AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems Program Review 2012. As co-chair of the House Unmanned Systems Caucus, Congressman Cuellar has been a friend and great supporter to the unmanned systems community,” said AUVSI President & CEO Michael Toscano.


AUVSI applauds DOD for continued funding of unmanned systems in strategic defense review
By: Melanie Hinton 1/5/12

The Association for  Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) applauds Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for ensuring the U.S. Department of Defense will continue funding for unmanned systems in the Strategic Defense Review.

The language in the review calls for a continued reliance on new technology, including armed and unarmed unmanned systems, as the military increasingly focuses on security in the Asia-Pacific region and forges “small footprint” alliances with other nations around the world.

“In light of the budget cuts the Department of Defense must make, we are heartened to see that Secretary of Defense Panetta will continue to invest in utilizing unmanned systems to protect and work with troops in theater,” said AUVSI President & CEO Michael Toscano.

US-Canada sign agreement on regulatory cooperation, includes UAS

On 7 Dec. President Barack Obama and Canada Prime Minister Harper signed an agreement that deals primarily with impediments to cross border traffic, but it also includes a small section dealing with small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS). The agreement is based on a Regulatory Cooperation Council Joint Action Plan and contains in part:

“... for unmanned aircraft systems—aircraft weighing less than 35 kg used for flight testing, aerial photography, filming for television documentaries, or offshore geophysical surveys. Canada and the U.S. can jointly undertake to develop and adopt common standards for unmanned aircraft systems and establish a mechanism to share regulatory experiences, with a view to aligning regulatory approaches.”

AUVSI members are currently heavily involved with a Transport Canada working group developing regulations for operation of UAS in Canadian air space – Phase 1 of that exercise is nearing completion.


AUVSI remembers those who served in Iraq

As the war in Iraq comes to an end, AUVSI would like to thank and honor the brave men and women of the U.S. armed forces and allied troops for the past nine years of their tireless service in the conflict in Iraq.

This war saw the proliferation of the unmanned systems technology that AUVSI and our members are so passionate about. We extend our sincerest gratitude to all the companies that, through their technology, kept soldiers safe, be it unmanned aircraft monitoring from above or ground vehicles taking soldiers out of harm’s way of dangerous improvised explosives.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said, “The cost was high — in blood and treasure of the United States, and also for the Iraqi people. But those lives have not been lost in vain — they gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq.”

We would like to echo Panetta’s sentiments and recognize the sacrifice of the Iraqi citizens, who have struggled to live in a free country.

The continued growth of the unmanned systems industry has helped maintain the security of the United States’ borders, and will continue to watch over our soldiers in Afghanistan. During this holiday season, we at AUVSI ask that you take some time to think of the sacrifices made abroad for there to be peace at home in the United States and our allied nations.


AUVSI announces new date for AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012
By: Melanie Hinton

Mark your calendars with the new dates for AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012. This year’s annual conference will be held 6-9 Aug. at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

The date change reflects new formatting for this year’s conference, which will kick off on Monday, 6 Aug. with educational programming in the afternoon. The tradeshow portion of the week will run 7-9 Aug. New this year — all attendees will have access to the daily General Sessions.

According to AUVSI President & CEO Michael Toscano, “We made the format change this year to promote more dedicated time in the exhibit hall and continue offering our high-quality educational programming with fewer conflicts. We will still have the fantastic networking opportunities for attendees that AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America has become known for providing.”

For more information, visit


HASC Chair Rep. McKeon will Address AUVSI Program Review Attendees

AUVSI is pleased to confirm that Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee and co-chair of the House Unmanned Systems Caucus, will be the keynote speaker on Air Day, Wednesday, 8 February, for AUVSI's Unmanned Systems Program Review 2012.
“I’m honored to accept AUVSI’s invitation. Unmanned systems give our forces a definitive edge in combat, and AUVSI has been at the forefront of innovation and advocacy for this critical field. I look forward to engaging with the men and women who have made this indispensable technology possible,” commented Rep. McKeon upon confirming for the event.
“AUVSI is honored to have Congressman McKeon speaking on Air Day for AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems Program Review 2012. Congressman McKeon has been, and continues to be, one of the biggest supporters for the unmanned systems community,” said AUVSI President & CEO Michael Toscano.
For more information about AUVSI's Unmanned Systems Program Review 2012, visit


ADEX 2011: Korea Wants Robots

By: Danielle Lucey, October 24, 2011

While no unmanned systems could be seen flying over the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition, the swell of their numbers on the show floor was indicative of the Asian peninsula country’s desire for increased security and surveillance capability.

Many of the show’s Korean-based companies and UAS projects detailed by the country’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration seemed in their infancy, many still in production or testing, some even after 10 years of work.

Korean Air, known more for their commercial airliners, displayed around five UAS display models in its booth, ranging from medium to large in size, all in different stages of development.

The company’s KUS-9 — with its distinctive twin booms and helicopter-style skids — is currently in production, according to Ho Jip Keum, deputy general manager of Korean Air’s aerospace business division. Its KUS-X is appears very similar to Northrop Grumman’s X-47B combat air vehicle, and the KUS-15 looks like Korea’s answer to the MQ-9 Reaper minus the bulbous nose. Keum was hesitant to give any details on the aircraft’s operational capabilities, though he said the KUS-15 is up for DAPA project consideration.

The company also showed the Smart UAV, a tiltrotor aircraft that is also currently going through flight tests at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute.

Speaking through a translator at the show’s AUVSI-sponsored Unmanned Systems East seminar, KARI’s Sam Ok Koo talked about the project, which has been ongoing for nearly 10 years.

“The Smart UAV program started in 2002, and this program is designed … with our local technologies to develop unmanned aircraft. … Many experts have gathered together at KARI, but industry, university students and overseas organizations are also participating in our program so there are more than 100 people participating.” 

While the aircraft has successfully demonstrated its helicopter-style flight tests, the project has yet to test-fly its fixed-wing capability. The company also has yet to test the aircraft’s autonomous conversion between the two flight styles.

“This is a very careful and sensitive process,” he says.

Another large homegrown player, Hanwha, one of the busiest booths at the show, displayed its air, ground and maritime unmanned systems, including small UAS and a ground robot that also acts as a smart grenade. Some of these projects were also in evidence at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2011, where the company also exhibited.

Hanwha’s Crow UAV comes in two sizes, the larger for battalions and the smaller a hand-launchable for squad troops. The company plans on supplying the smaller unit starting in 2012, while the larger Crow is still in development.

Through work with the U.S. military, Hanwha has also developed a flapping wing unmanned system, the Flapping MAV, which the company will be done developing in three or four years, says Fatin Yoon, international business development and marketing manager for Hanwha. 

The SG Robot, while a little out of place at an air show, is a throwable robot that can be tossed by grenade launchers up to 100 meters and relays back video of its surroundings. If a threat is presented to the SG Robot, it turns into a “smart grenade” and detonates.


All AUVSI photos. Please ask for permission before use.

AUVSI Cautions FAA to Stay the Course on UAS Integration into the National Airspace System
September 30, 2011

In light of this week’s failed plot againt the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol with remote-controlled model planes packed with explosives, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) cautions the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) against implementing burdensome regulations that could potentially set back the safe integration of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) by 2015 as currently written in the pending FAA Reauthorization Bills (H.R. 658, S. 223).

The FAA also is devising new rules, via a federal aviation rulemaking process, for the safe integration of small UAS in the National Airspace System (NAS) with an anticipated integration deadline of 2013. AUVSI continues to support this effort and hopes this incident does not affect the FAA's current timeline.

AUVSI feels we need more intelligence not more regulation and concur with Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, when he stated that although model aircraft could be attractive to terrorists, the way to combat that problem is through better intelligence.

Michael Toscano, president and CEO of AUVSI, stated, "we remain committed to assisting the FAA in developing solutions to this complex issue and we look forward to our continued work with the FAA on ensuring safe integration of UAS into the National Airspace System."

About AUVSI:
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) represents 7,000 members worldwide from more than 2,100 organizations from industry, government and academia and is the leading global organization representing the views of the unmanned systems community to lawmakers and regulators. AUVSI is involved with efforts to increase access and safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system; create standards for all types of unmanned systems; address restrictive export control policies, and expedite license approvals for unmanned systems technologies.

AUVSI's Unmanned Systems North America 2011 DVDs, proceedings now available
September 27, 2011

Couldn't make it to AUVSI's Unmanned Systems North America 2011? Want to see the General Sessions and Panel Sessions again because they were THAT good? We have the DVDs you need.

The DVD includes audio and powerpoint presentations of all General Sessions and Panel Sessions (where the speaker approved content). Orders can be placed at: The DVD pricing is $249/members and $349/nonmembers.

Event proceedings (technical papers and PDF presentations with NO audio) are available at Full registrants can access them at no charge, others can purchase them by emailing


Army Makes MUSIC with Manned, Unmanned Aircraft
By: Brett Davis, September 16, 2011

One after another, the unmanned aircraft took to the clear blue skies over Dugway Proving Ground, Utah: an MQ-1C Gray Eagle; an MQ-5B Hunter; an RQ-7B Shadow; a Puma hand-launched UAS; and the even smaller hand-launched RQ-11B Raven. Two manned helicopters took off as well, an Apache and a Kiowa.

Within minutes, the U.S. Army demonstrated how these systems could work together, relaying information and video and swapping control of the various sensors on the aircraft.

The demonstration was Manned Unmanned System Integration Capability (MUSIC), the first of many planned exercises intended to show how increasing levels of interoperability can benefit the warfighter.

It highlighted a series of recent developments: The first time a Universal Ground Control Station operated three types of unmanned aircraft (Gray Eagle, Hunter and Shadow); the first time a One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT) controlled the sensor ball on an unmanned aircraft; and the debut of the Triclops sensor suite, three sensor payloads carried by a single Gray Eagle.

Pulling off MUSIC took an unprecedented level of cooperation among Army offices and a variety of defense contractors, said Col. Timothy Baxter, the new project manager for unmanned aircraft systems at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., which headed up the effort.

"It's something that ... I haven't seen on any other program," Baxter said on 15 Sept. at a media day preview of the event.

Baxter's deputy, Tim Owings, said "What we're going to see today is going to change the future of the Army for a long while."

The MUSIC demo went off without a hitch, as the eyes in the sky tracked the movements of pretend enemies on the base in real-time. Control of the various sensor feeds in the air was handed back and forth with little delay, including the new ability of the hand-held OSRVT to take command of a sensor ball. The Hunter was also able to send its video feed into the cockpit of the Apache, a capability that has already been fielded in limited amounts.

At the end of the demo, the Kiowa, cued with data from the unmanned aircraft, mock-destroyed a friendly tank to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.

Army officials said at a question-and-answer session later that MUSIC is the first of a planned series of demonstrations, one that will include more capabilities — data from signals intelligence sensors, wide-area surveillance systems, etc. — and even inter-service cooperation.


Unmanned Systems Make a Bang at DSEi 2011
By: Danielle Lucey, September 13, 2011

Unmanned systems companies are abound at this year’s Defence and Security Equipment International, a soup-nuts defense conference taking place this week in London.
About 100 unmanned systems companies are represented at the event, some of which are located in a special unmanned pavilion area at the show.
Inside the unmanned area is the Unmanned Theatre, allowing companies the opportunity to show their latest wares. Some of the companies that have taken up the challenge today are Cranfield Aerospace, a U.K. company tasked with commercializing the concepts borne at Cranfield University.
With work on the Boeing Phantom Works X-48B and QinetiQ’s Observer under its belt, the company discussed how simplification of unmanned platforms and their operation could enhance the capabilities of smaller-sized unmanned systems.
The company has developed an essentially half-sized platform of the Observer, the MinO, and is currently developing and hoping to commercialize a vertical takeoff and landing system, unique in its four-wing design. Shaped similarly to the feathers of a dart, the new single-motor, single-propeller system is aimed at reconnaissance and surveillance needs. Cranfield is currently working on simplifying its takeoff and landing process, which currently uses a parachute.
Another UAV company, the United States’ Insitu discussed its foray into the VTOL market with Inceptor. Designed for the law enforcement market, the lithium battery-powered mini helicopter costs as little as a squad car, said Steve Tanner, director of business development for the company.
Sponsored by AUVSI, a Robotics and Unmanned Systems Showcase area sits next to the Unmanned Theatre and is not only showing attendees the capabilities of air and ground robotics, but it’s also making for a loud and lively event.
Robots from Selex Galileo, ReconRobotics, Northrop Grumman and QinetiQ, to name a few, are playing out an anti-IED scenario twice a day, with live fire fighting scenarios sending artificial gunfire whizzing past the systems. Through the smoke and explosions, the robots aerially survey the enemy while troops on the ground use a variety of sized ground robotics to open a car trunk and examine a possible IED threat, scope out the area so the troops can advance, pull a casualty from the battlefield and fly into a building to get up-close information. The demos will continue daily in the mornings at 10:30 and every afternoon through Thursday at 3:30.


MTSU, Army team to start UAS center
By: Danielle Lucey, August 22, 2011

Middle Tennessee State University and the Army Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aircraft Systems announced Thursday they have joined in a memorandum of understanding to establish the Center for Unmanned Systems Operational Advancement and Research at the university.

Located in Murfreesboro, Tenn., about two hours from the PM UAS office, MTSU will begin a dedicated curriculum centered on unmanned systems inside its airspace sciences major.

said Kyle Snyder, UAS program director for MTSU.

The school also has multiple certificates of authorization from the FAA that allow them to fly Insitu’s ScanEagle, AAI Corp.’s Aerosonde and an L-3 Viking 400. Next they will work on securing smaller UAS, starting when the Army supplies the school with Ravens this fall. The COAs allow the school to fly at less than 10,000 feet in Savannah, Tenn., at ISR Group’s facility, the school’s industry partner. MTSU’s flying data will be available for use by the PM UAS.

Currently 16 students are enrolled in the first unmanned systems course, starting this fall. 

AUVSI Announces Newly Elected Board of Directors
August 18, 2011

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) announced during its annual AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2011 its newly elected leaders on its Board of Directors.

The Executive Committee will be led by incoming Chairman of the Board Peter Bale, Executive Vice Chair John Lademan, First Vice Chairman Ralph Alderson, Treasurer Joe Brannan; and Immediate Past Chairman John Lambert.

Newly elected AUVSI Board of Directors:
COL (Ret) John Burke
Tom Faller
RADM (ret) Timothy Heely
Neil Hunter
Dr. Mark Patterson
Dr. Virginia (Suzy) Young

Continuing Board of Directors Members:
Michele Kalphat
Chris Mailey
Chad Partridge
Dave Seagle
Grant Begley
Matt England
Gene Fraser
Stephen Newton
David Place
Peter Smith

“We are grateful to the continuing dedication of our members to help take AUVSI to the next level and meet the needs of this growing, ever changing industry,” said AUVSI President and CEO Michael Toscano. “The AUVSI staff and I look forward to working with Peter and the rest of the board to meet the challenges and opportunities available to the unmanned  systems and robotics industry.”


Lynch: Some robots are good, more would be better
By: Brett Davis, August 16, 2011

Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch said he has seen progress in the development of military robotics and unmanned systems, but he’d like to see more, including a renewed push for more autonomous systems.

The United States is worrying about deficits and jobs, but is still fighting two wars. A greater use of unmanned systems is one way to cut budgets while still winning conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, he said at the opening session of AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2011.

Unmanned systems can help achieve three goals, said Lynch, the commanding general of U.S. Army Installation Management Command and the assistant chief of staff for installation management. They are: improve surveillance; reduce the soldiers’ workload; and increase the survivability of service members.

Using small unmanned aircraft can provide an overview but don’t have enough loiter time to provide “persistent stare,” he said, and that’s something soldiers need to be able to spot enemy fighters who are placing improvised explosive devices.

Greater autonomy can help ease the burden on unmanned systems operators, Lynch said, but too often the military is satisfied with the remotely operated systems of today.

“I used those tele-operated systems, my soldiers did as well, and I thank God for those systems,” Lynch said. However, “I believe candidly that we could accelerate the development of autonomous technology” if it’s deemed important enough.

“If you want to reduce the workload, and we do, you’ve got to keep the warfighter in the loop but he doesn’t have to be dedicated to that particular mission,” Lynch said. He also said he doesn’t see a problem with armed robots, which already exist in theater in the form of armed unmanned aircraft and remote-controlled gun stations.

Increasing the survivability of soldiers is the best thing unmanned systems can help achieve, Lynch said, which can partly be achieved by getting more of the technology into the field.

Many soldiers die clearing routes of IEDS in vehicles and “the majority of those vehicles, unfortunately, are manned vehicles, and they don’t need to be.”

Others die in convoys delivering needed weapons and supplies. “We could have done [robotic] convoy technology a long time ago, we have the technology,” Lynch said.



DOD Throws Support to National Robotics Initiative through Defense University Research Instrumentation Program
By: Melanie Hinton, August 5, 2011

On 3 August the Office of Science & Technology Policy announced that the Department of Defense is also supporting the National Robotics Initiative through the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program. This $40 million program, supported by the Army Research Office, the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, strengthens the capability of universities to conduct research and educate scientists and engineers in areas that are important to national defense.

The FY12 solicitation specifically encourages proposals for purchases of equipment that can support research in robotics, “given the continuing priority of that research area to a wide range of defense technologies and applications, including unmanned ground, air, sea and undersea vehicles and autonomous systems.”

This announcement is critical to the success of the National Robotics Initiative, given the role that equipment can play in enabling researchers to develop next-generation applications. It is hoped that DURIP's participation in the NRI will serve as a catalyst for additional partnerships between the robotic industry and the academic research community.

About the NRI
At a speech at Carnegie Mellon University on 24 June, President Obama launched the
National Robotics Initiative as part of a broader effort to promote a renaissance of American manufacturing through the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.  Four agencies (the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the Department of Agriculture) have issued a joint solicitation that will provide research funding for next-generation robotics.

This initiative focuses on developing robots that work with or beside people to extend or augment human capabilities, taking advantage of the different strengths of humans and robots. In addition to investing in the core technology needed for next-generation robotics, the initiative will support applications such as robots that can:

  • Increase the productivity of workers in the manufacturing sector;
  • Assist astronauts in dangerous and expensive missions;
  • Help scientists accelerate the discovery of new, life-saving drugs; and
  • Improve food safety by rapidly sensing microbial contamination.


Partial FAA Shutdown Continues – Dramatically Impacting the UAS Offices

By Ben Gielow
August 1, 2011

Update: The House adjourned for its August recess on Monday, 1 Aug., and the Senate is expected to adjourn by the end of the week. If the Senate does not take up and pass H.R. 2553, the FAA will remain partially shutdown until sometime in the fall. To read the bill, click

On 22 July the Federal Aviation Administration’s authority to collect and spend taxes that fund much of the aviation system expired. Since the last multi-year FAA bill expired in 2007, the FAA had been operating under 20 short-term extensions. Although Congress usually passes “clean” extensions, which do not include policy changes, the House attached a controversial provision on its 21st extension bill, which the Senate refuses to take up. The current fight is over subsidies to the Essential Air Service program, which provides airlines incentives to provide service to small airports. The House bill would prevent EAS subsidies from going to airports that are closer than 90 miles from a major airport and prevent subsidies over $1,000 per passenger per flight (which currently affects three airports in the United States).

The result of this partial shutdown means that 200 capital projects at airports have been stopped or cut back and that 3,500 FAA employees have been furloughed. The FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Program Office has about half of its employees furloughed, while the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Group staff has been decreased by 80 percent. Because of the reduced staff, the FAA is currently only reviewing UAS emergency and disaster relief certificates of authorization. In addition, the shutdown means that the federal treasury is losing $25 million to $30 million in tax revenue each day.

Because the FAA shutdown largely has been overshadowed by the negotiations surrounding the federal debt ceiling, some are concerned that the FAA may not get an extension until after the Congressional August recess. AUVSI members are encouraged to contact their members of Congress and tell them to take up and pass the multi-year FAA authorization bill, which includes important provisions in integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace. If you're an AUVSI member, you can send a pre-written letter to your representatives by clicking

Team SONIA Lands Elusive RoboSub Win

By Danielle Lucey
July 19, 2011

It’s been 11 years in the making, including four third-place and two second-place results, but team SONIA from the École de technologie superieure has finally achieved what has escaped it for so long — a first-place win at the AUVSI Foundation’s RoboSub contest. 

With the win, SONIA not only trumped history but also a very strong team from Cornell University, winners of the last two years of the competition, held once again this year at SPAWAR San Diego’s TRANSDEC facility. 

Competing with an all-new sub design, new mechanical and electrical configurations, and mostly new software didn’t phase the team much, according to team leader Kevin Larose, especially since the 26-person team logged around 250 hours in the pool before coming to the competition. 

“Last year we wanted to achieve all the obstacles, and we’ve worked on them individually,” says Larose. “When we arrived here, to try to do them one after the other was our main challenge, so this year what we did is we started to work on chaining each obstacle right in the beginning of the year. .... So this year the vehicle is a lot more reliable and a lot more stable, so we know what it’s going to do because we’ve been chaining obstacles since a very long time now.” 

Unlike many of the teams at RoboSub that had to battle San Diego’s constantly changing cloud coverage, SONIA perfected the art by archiving imagery and readjusting their sensors accordingly for their practice and final runs. 

“The first thing we did was record images with clouds, with sun and different lighting conditions, and as long as we know what it is beforehand, we will be able to adjust our camera even though it’s very bright or cloudy,” says Larose. 

SONIA, which is a French acronym for an intelligent and autonomous underwater system, is now looking to become repeat winners of the competition for 2012, with none of the undergraduate students set to leave next year. 

Not only the most capable team at RoboSub, SONIA also focused on befriending other teams and helping them become more robust where they could. 

“You don’t have a lot of pool time, and if your stuff doesn’t work here, they won’t start magically working during the week,” says Larose. “So we feel that it would be a shame that people come from so far, and arrive here and they don’t get the parts that we need, so we try to help them as much as we can, lend them stuff and make sure everyone is capable of proving what they can do.” 

One of those teams turned a normally game-ending disaster into a fourth place win. Reykjavik University's sub flooded on the first qualifying run, but the team rallied to rebuild it overnight to qualify for the finals. 

Only the second year the team has participated in the competition, Reykjavik used its creativity to get its sub up and running again in time to qualify after the initial tragedy. 

“We had some spare parts, we got extremely lucky,” says team leader Gudmundur Viktorsson. “It seems most of the electronics shorted out before being destroyed, so we used about half of the components back again. And just we rinsed everything out [and] did some damage assessment. The electrical team stayed up all night just fixing our makeshift rack. We used our file server we had onsite as the boat’s computer so we had to make do with that.” 

Their sub, Freyja, named after the Norse goddess of love and fertility, fit the 14th annual competition’s theme, Robo Love.

The following teams rounded out the list of this year’s winners and awardees: 

1st Place: ETS Team SONIA (awarded $7,000)
2nd Place : Cornell University (awarded $4000)
3rd Place: University of Florida (awarded $3,000)
4th Place : Reykjavik University (awarded $2,000)
5th Place: University of Maryland (awarded $500)
6th Place: University of Rhode Island (awarded $500)
7th Place: United States Naval Academy
8th Place: North Carolina State University

Mayor's Cup for Community Outreach: Carl Hayden High School (awarded $1,000)
Second Chance Award: University of Central Florida (awarded $1,000)
Outstanding Technical Mentorship: University of Maryland ($500)
Hardware is Hard Award: Utah State University (awarded $500)
Innovation on a Budget Award: Mesa College (awarded $500)
Best Paper Award: Kyushu University (awarded $500)

RoboSub 2011 on YouTube

RoboSub 2011 on Flickr

University of Alaska Fairbanks Researcher Tests Unmanned Aircraft to Study Wildlife
July 9, 2011

Researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute in conjunction with the North Pacific Fisheries Foundation have begun evaluation flights of small-unmanned aircraft (UAS) to assist in research and monitoring of the current Steller sea lion population.

Since the 1970s the population of Steller sea lions has declined dramatically and the Western Aleutian Islands stock is currently listed as an endangered species. Fisheries practices are often implicated in the decline, but so far research has not found a definitive link between fishing and the decline of this magnificent animal. In spite of this, the National Marine Fisheries Service
finalized a biological opinion last year that includes as mitigation measures a drastic reduction in the commercial fishery in the central Aleutians, and eliminated the fishery entirely in the western Aleutians.

The National Marine Mammal Laboratory conducts annual, manned aerial surveys of the Steller sea lion population throughout their Alaska range. During June and July, these surveys are flown from southeast Alaska to Attu in the western Aleutian Islands. These flights carry two pilots and up to three biologists, along with high-resolution digital photographic equipment. However, in the central and western Aleutians adverse weather and distantly spaced airfields (Dutch Harbor, Atka, Adak, and Shemya) make it difficult and potentially dangerous to consistently perform extensive annual surveys.

This effort’s goal is to determine if UAS launched locally from boats could provide a cost-effective and safe means to survey these hard to reach locations with their unpredictable weather conditions.

This week, with sponsorship from the North Pacific Fisheries Foundation and the US Navy, staff from the Geophysical Institute conducted several successful flights of UAS, the AeroVironment Puma AE, off a commercial fishing boat, the Arctic Explorer, outside Dutch Harbor.

“These experiments will help us determine the suitability of working with this aircraft in these conditions and prepare ourselves for further testing and evaluation” says Greg Walker, the project’s leader. “These first tests have given us quite a lot of information about both the aircraft and the camera’s payload”.

The Puma AE aircraft is hand launched and lands in the water where an inflatable boat can easily go pick it up to return to the fishing boat. Researchers at the university will be working on processing the low-altitude, high-resolution imagery they collected of the varying coastline to generate 3-dimensional aerial images of the beach using image processing tools originally developed for the film industry to animate objects in 3-D.

In addition to collecting coastline imagery, they conducted acoustic testing at both the Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks and aboard the Arctic Explorer fishing boat to ensure that the flights would not disturb any of the marine mammals that they may observe. In these tests at 70 feet altitude, much lower than would be flown over the animals, the aircraft “sounded like a
room fan in the next room over” said Todd Loomis, onboard as a representative of the North Pacific Fisheries Foundation of Seattle.

During the flight operations the university’s developed Portable Airspace Surveillance System, the iPASS, which monitors air traffic out to 12 miles, was deployed to ensure that the unmanned aircraft would always stay well clear of any manned planes that may venture into the area. This was the first time this NASA Certified system was deployed aboard a ship. This week’s successful testing of recent upgrades to account for the ship’s motion will be the basis for further additions to the integral RADAR system.

“Because safety is of the utmost importance, we employed this proven system to help our airspace observers know early of any approaching aircraft to give more time to react if needed” said Walker. “The iPASS saw other aircraft as expected during the transit time to the flight area but no planes were detected within 12 miles of the operation during our flights.”

Mr. Walker believes that “as this project progress we may discover uses for the technology that can go beyond simply counting animals to help scientists improve their understanding of the animals use of their habitat.”

National Robotics Initiative (NRI) Opens BAA Solicitation
July 5, 2011

The goal of the National Robotics Initiative is to accelerate the development and use of robots in the United States that work beside or cooperate with people. Innovative robotics research and applications emphasizing the realization of such co-robots acting in direct support of and in a symbiotic relationship with human partners is supported by multiple agencies of the federal government including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The purpose of this program is to develop the next generation of robotics, to advance the capability and usability of such systems and artifacts, and to encourage existing and new communities to focus on innovative application areas. It will address the entire life cycle from fundamental research and development to industry  manufacturing and deployment.  Methods for the establishment and infusion of robotics in educational curricula and research to gain a better understanding of the long-term social, behavioral and economic implications of co-robots across all areas of human activity are important parts of this initiative.  Collaboration between academic, industry, non-profit and other organizations is strongly encouraged to establish better linkages between fundamental science and technology development, deployment and use.
Two classes of proposals will be considered in response to this solicitation:
1.Small projects: One or more investigators spanning 1 to 5 years.
2.Large projects: Multi-disciplinary teams spanning 1 to 5 years.
As detailed in the solicitation, appropriate scientific areas of investigations may be related to any of the participating funding organizations.
Small Proposals

Letter of Intent Deadline Date: 1 October 2011
1 October, Annually Thereafter

Full Proposal Deadline Date: 3 November 2011
3 November, Annually Thereafter

Group Large Proposals

Letter of Intent Deadline Date: 15 December 2011
15 December, Annually Thereafter

Full Proposal Deadline Date: 18 January 2012
18 January, Annually Thereafter

Public Briefings: One or more collaborative webinar briefings with question and answer functionality will be held beginning in September 2011 prior to the first submission deadline date. Schedules will be posted on the sponsor announcement websites.
For more information, visit the
National Science Foundation website

GPS Concerns Delay Proposed National Broadband
By: Stephanie Levy,  June 28, 2011

A Congressional committee concluded 23 June that lawmakers could order the company LightSquared to conduct additional testing of its proposed nationwide wireless broadband system. LightSquared delayed the release of a report that would outline the effects its proposed network would have on current GPS technologies, but independent studies and the unmanned systems community have already expressed concern that the proposed network would compromise safety, technology and job growth.

“This is a threat to NexGen and to the further development of the unmanned [systems] community because there are obvious interference issues,” says Bobby Sturgell, senior vice president of Washington Operations at Rockwell Collins.

AUVSI also has expressed opposition to LightSquared’s proposed wireless broadband system.

“All around the world, unmanned systems (air, ground and maritime) rely on accurate, dependable GPS signals,” AUVSI President and CEO Michael Toscano said in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on 12 April. “The lack of a reliable GPS signal poses a serious threat to our public safety and national defense, and the potential cost of retrofitting or replacing affected GPS receivers would be an undue burden.”

Current GPS satellites operating in space carry a very weak signal by the time that signal reaches Earth. LightSquared’s proposed 40,000 ground antennae send a signal more than 1 billion times stronger than current GPS, making GPS receivers useless from the resulting interference. Specifically, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized a 1626.5-1660.5 MHz uplink band range for LightSquared to use in its endeavor, but the GPS spectrum, 1560-1610 MHz, is only 16 points away.

“There’s substantial interference and in some cases complete blockage, which I think speaks a lot to the rushed nature of this process,” Sturgell says. “No waiver should have been granted. It should have been handled from a regulatory perspective, much differently and much more formally.”

A report conducted by RTCA Inc. found that LightSquared’s terrestrial receivers would negatively affect GPS reception on aviation receivers. According to the study, the proposed use of LightSquared’s uplink band could result in “complete loss of GPS receiver function.” Sturgell says there’s “absolutely no reason to believe that the report the working group puts together is going to be any different.”

After its latest Congressional hearing, LightSquared’s working group must now release its findings no later than 1 July. The original deadline for that report was 25 June. However, even when LightSquared does release its findings, Sturgell says the results won’t include testing in the unmanned systems industry.

“What was missing in the conversation was, ‘What about the unmanned? What about the semi-autonomous vehicles; what about the unmanned ground stations?’ All that stuff depends on GPS, so more than likely all of that stuff is going to be equally affected as the aviation receivers were.”

According to a 20 June Congressional memo on the LightSquared hearing, LightSquared is poised to move ahead with its plan regardless of the final results of its report or the FCC’s final decision on its waiver application. The FCC is soliciting public opinion on the matter before making a final decision on LightSquared’s waiver.

“Without the waiver, consumers would have to subscribe to integrated satellite and terrestrial wireless services, but the interference with GPS receivers would occur regardless of whether end users subscribe to ground-only or to integrated satellite and ground components,” the memo said.

Sturgell says there is still time for opponents in the unmanned systems community to have their voices heard.

“The unmanned community can say they’re going to be interfered with just like the aviation receivers that were tested,” Sturgell says. “Some of them are on UAS vehicles. You cannot just approve something like this based on a plan. That plan has to be verified through comprehensive testing to ensure it doesn’t interfere with GPS receivers in unmanned aviation, in agriculture, in ground unmanned, all of these different GPS activities that are embedded in the nation.”

Sturgell says that for proponents of a nationwide wireless broadband system, there are still ways to make that goal a reality without compromising GPS reception.

“Broadband is a good thing for the country,” Sturgell says. “Certainly when it’s done in the right way it can be compatible with GPS. The problem in this case is it’s not. It’s very clearly not.”

Read more about AUVSI’s stance on the LightSquared GPS issue on the advocacy documents page.

Obama Announces Manufacturing Plan that Includes Unmanned Systems
By: Stephanie Levy, June 24, 2011

President Barack Obama launched the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) Friday at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. The national effort invests more than $500 million in manufacturing and emerging technologies, with $70 million going specifically to development in the robotics and unmanned systems industries.

"These investments will help create the next generation of robots that will work closely with human operators - allowing new ability for factory workers, healthcare providers, soldiers, surgeons and astronauts to carry out key hard-to-do tasks," the White House said in a press release about the initiative.

The National Robotics Roundtable commended the president's focus on the role that unmanned systems and robotics will play in "creating jobs, strengthening the economy and ensuring American competitiveness in the global marketplace."

"Among the many strengths of robotics and unmanned systems, one of the most important is that they are a revolutionary technology that will extend the functionality of a human being's hands, eyes and ears to allow them to perform dirty, dangerous, difficult and dull operations from a safe distance," Michael Toscano President and CEO of AUVSI, said in the National Robotics Roundtable press release. "As men and women look for better ways to accomplish their jobs, robotics and unmanned systems will be at the forefront as applications to use them continue to increase."

While visiting Carnegie Mellon, President Obama got to see examples of research and development in the unmanned systems industry firsthand. When meeting with technicians before his address, Obama saw a pipe inspection robot demonstration from RedZone Robotics. The company's unmanned underwater vehicles navigate wastewater pipes to collect data to help with waste water management and infrastructure controls. President Obama joked that as Commander in Chief, he has a vested interest in keeping an eye on these types of unmanned systems and robots.

"The robots you make here seem peaceful enough for now," Obama said in his speech.


Utah State Wins 2011 SUAS Competition
By: Stephanie Levy, June 21, 2011


Students at Utah State University took home first place with their fixed-wing vehicle at AUVSI's 9th annual Student Unmanned Air Systems Competition at Webster Field in Patuxent River, Md. Utah State won all three phases of the competition: journal, oral brief and mission performance. They are the first repeat winner of SUAS, having won the competition for the first time in 2009.

“We’ve all been overjoyed,” Cal Coopmans, the team’s graduate advisor, says. “I’ve been especially proud. As the graduate advisor I try to hang back and direct without pushing them too hard. We pulled a lot of late nights and it payed off.”

Coopmans says the team, comprised exclusively of students, designed, built and tested the UAV. The team made some modifications to get the vehicle competition ready, adding a real-time imagery downlink and larger camera than had been used in previous research.

"The reason we have operable UAVs at all is because we do natural resource management," Coopmans says. "We build UAVs for research, for water management, tracking riverbeds, looking at avian habitats, that kind of stuff. We do the same testing protocol in the competition stuff that we do in the research stuff."

North Carolina State University, last year’s winner, slipped to second place in the competition with their UAV. The team is already making plans for how to improve their vehicle for next year’s competition.

“We’ve been flying gas for years,” senior Alex Kesling says. “One thing we’ve really wanted to do is switch to electric because it simplifies a lot of pieces in the system, but we have to build a new airframe for that.”

Kesling says the team, named Wolfpack after their alma mater’s mascot, also wants to upgrade the camera on its vehicle.

“The problem is it’s really heavy, really big, and the amount of drag for the camera is scary,” Kesling says.

Some of the teams who participated were not so lucky. When the team from Mississippi State University tried to fly their UAV, a control on the engine malfunctioned and the engine wouldn’t start.

“We opted to take a time out in place because we didn’t think it would be that serious of an issue,” student Eric Hill says. “It turned out to be a little more involved than we thought, so we didn’t have the opportunity to come back and do a full time out.”

In all, 24 teams participated in the five-day competition. The total purse for the competition was more than $70,000; Utah State received $13,400 of that total.




Paris Air Show Roundup: Camcopter Flies, Thales Deploys, Rockwell Sees the Future
By: Brett Davis, June 21, 2011


For the second Paris Air Show in a row, Schiebel's Camcopter S-100 was the only unmanned aircraft flying.

The company had hoped to fly it closer to the crowd, said Neil Hunter, the managing director for sales, marketing and strategy, but it was again kept away from the main viewing area. To make the small helicopter more visible this time, Schiebel covered most of the fuselage in red foil.

"For us, this is much more than just a marketing event," Hunter said. "I think it's visible proof that we have a proven product that's accepted in the world today."

The company flew a variety of sensors on the aircraft during the show, relaying video back to its booth in an exhibit hall. One was Wescam L-3 Communications' Wescam MX-10 electro-optical/infrared payload, which had been integrated on the systems only in January. The company has demonstrated its use in inspecting power lines in Austria, the first time such work has been undertaken by an unmanned aircraft in Europe, Schiebel announced at the show.

Ready for Deployment

Amid competing efforts to develop new European unmanned aircraft--BAE Systems and Dassult with the Telemos, Cassidian with the Talarion--one UAS is preparing to enter service and has already had a large impact on the airspace picture in the United Kingdom.

That's Thales UK's Watchkeeper, based on the Elbit Systems Hermes 450 but built and upgraded in the United Kingdom. Watchkeeper is expected to be fielded in Afghanistan by the end of the year, but in the meantime it has already changed the airspace picture in its home country, the company said in a briefing at the Paris Air Show.

Watchkeeper has been flying out of ParAberporth in Wales and as a result of its experience the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) recently announced a new swath of airspace that will be available to unmanned systems. That airspace extends 40 nautical miles inland to the east from Aberporth, making up an area of 499 miles; the area where Watchkeeper has been flying since 2010.

"CAA has now granted that on the back of the Watchkeeper trials," said Nick Miller, Thales' business director for UAV systems. "We have been proving the airspace for the U.K. and CAA said, yeah, no problem, you can fly over people, it's safe, it meets the safety standards. This is a major step change."

In military airspace, too, at Boscombe Down over the Salisbury Plain, Watchkeeper has been approved to fly "over some pretty serious cities," Miller said. "Everybody said that's not a problem, watchkeeper's fine to do that."

Thales is currently providing military ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) for the U.K. using Hermes 450s, which will be pulled out as Watchkeeper enters service. Ultimately, the program calls for 54 air vehicles and 15 ground control stations.

Ultimately the system could carry weapons as well, although there is no current requirement for that, and the company is eyeing export opportunities.

The Future

Rockwell Collins' David Vos sees a strong future for small personal aircraft in the world, one where taking a flight could be as simple as hopping in a car and going for a drive.

A lot of technology would have to come together to make that happen, but most of it has been demonstrated already and it's more of a regulatory issue now, the senior director for UAS and Control Technologies said at a briefing at the 2011 Paris Air Show.

The adoption of next-generation air control, which relies more on data exchange than voice exchange, is one of the keys to this, Vos said. Such data exchange is a component of both NextGen in the United States and Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) in Europe.

Rockwell Collins' own damage tolerance software could be component of this as well, and some aspects of the software will soon be making their way into both military and commercial aircraft.

That software, demonstrated several times on a hapless F/A-18 scale model unmanned aircraft as part of a DARPA-backed program, allows the aircraft to keep flying even if significant portions of a wing or other control surface is damaged.

Vos told AUVSI that the U.S. Army is deciding what parts of the system to incorporate into its Shadow unmanned aircraft program, and control software for general aviation systems is also expected to benefit.

The company conducted various demonstrations, including losing the engine, losing part of the wing, and finding the nearest landing site for an emergency landing.

"Those are all very real pieces that they want," he said. The overall damage tolerant effort looks at the whole plate of what can be done, and the Army "is in the process of defining what pieces they want and then we'll get that on Shadow."


Civil Aviation Authority Segregates Airspace for UAS
By: Danielle Lucey, June 15, 2011

Today the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority announced that it has created a dedicated airspace to fly unmanned systems in an area east of the West Wales airport after an appeal from the Welsh government to allow flights.

The airspace, which will be open to manned aircraft when not in use, will be designated as “Danger Areas” by the CAA, a term already in use by the agency that it defines as “airspace which has been notified as such within which activities dangerous to the flight of aircraft may take place or exist at such times as may be notified.”

A prior statement by the CAA on Danger Areas states, “There are certain activities, such as unmanned aircraft system operations which need to be conducted in segregated airspace. While the activity might not in itself be considered inherently dangerous, it currently demands an enhanced level of protection from other airspace users.”

The parameters of the airspace, designated as EG D202 and EG D202A/B/C can be seen on the map below.

The airspace covers about 499 square miles of land below it. 

“The CAA announcement to allow this specialized airspace is now the strongest recognition that West Wales is the focal point for UAS development in the U.K., says Ray Mann, West Wales Airport’s managing director. “The airspace adds significantly to the many specialized assets that already exist at the airport and gives Britain further opportunity to benefit from a market that is forecast to be worth 60 billion pounds annually by 2020.”

The airspace is the result of four years of lobbying by the Welsh government, QinetiQ and the West Wales Airport, according to a Welsh government release.

The ability to have dedicated airspace and facilities available in the U.K. is seen as key to ensuring that Wales and the U.K. are at the forefront of this new and growing sector,” said Edwina Hart, the Welsh government’s business minister. “It provides Wales with a unique proposition to attract companies working in this sector and also has the potential to raise the profile of Wales in international markets. Our ultimate aim is to create sustainable employment opportunities in the region.”

“By working closely with the Welsh government and other key stakeholders, the Wales UAS environment is unique in Europe and represents a world-class facility for the development of unmanned aircraft systems and the critical sensors and technology they carry,” said QinetiQ’s Carl Davies. “UAS can be used where manned flight is too dangerous or expensive and could be used to make sure humanitarian aid gets to the right places, to detect storms, observe forest fires or inspect pipelines and electric power lines.”

“An unmanned aircraft has many useful applications, for instance it would be perfect in situations such as monitoring and reporting the recent ash clouds, continued Mann.

West Wales Airport will operate the flights out of a 1,200-meter runway where it will allows for systems approval, training, payload integration and demonstration flights.

The Thales Watchkeeper UAV, tested by QinetiQ, had its first flight out of the ParcAberporth facility in April 2010 in a demonstration of segregated unmanned flights.

The West Wales/ParcAberporth facility will only allow flights under certain operational and environmental conditions and will go into effect 28 July. Details on the airspace will be published in a revised AIC: Y 052/2011 document that will be available at beginning 16 June.

“AUVSI applauds the U.K. CAA for this bold step in opening the skies for advancement and fielding of unmanned aircraft systems,” says Gretchen West, vice president of government relations and executive vice president of AUVSI. “This vast and newly segregated airspace is the first area in the U.K. designated for sole UAS flight allowing for manufacturers and operators to train, demonstrate technologies and further the capabilities of UAS.”


RoboBoat 2011 Results to be Replayed 14 June

The University of Rhode Island took the top prize at RoboBoat 2011, an unmanned surface vehicle competition sponsored by the AUVSI Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.

You can see a repeat of the webcast of the finals tomorrow, 14 June, from 12-4 p.m. here:

The team had several good practice and qualifying runs but ran into some trouble during the finals, held 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, 12 June. However, it was the only team to attempt some of the extra missions on the course, which included putting out a mock boat fire and turning off a small "waterfall."

The team members were disappointed by their final run, when their vehicle mistook a bucket for the switch that turned off the waterfall, but it was enough to boost them to first place. The scores included judging of each team's vehicle presentation.

The final standings are:

1: University of Rhode Island
2: University of Central Florida
3: Georgia Tech Aerospace Systems Lab
4: Virginia Tech
5: Stevens Institute of Technology
6: Diponegro University
7: Georgia Tech Savannah


Teams Vie for Final Slots at RoboBoat 2011

The team from the University of Rhode Island had the best showing at the first day of qualifying competition at RoboBoat 2011, sponsored by the AUVSI Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.

The team expressed some surprise at their good showing, as "the boat did not work  five minutes before going into the water," says team captain Kevin Hopkins, a graduate student. "This is great. I'm thrilled."

The nine-person team has three returning members from last year's competition (where Rhode Island took third place), five new members and one member, graduate student Rick Kollanda, who is on his third competition.

"Our robots have gotten better," Kollanda said. "Every year is the best."

That doesn't mean the team can rest easy entering into Sunday's final day of competition. The boat's robot arm, needed to complete one of the competition's task, blew a controller motor and the water cannon, needed for another, failed to operate.

"We've got to tweak everything," Hopkins said.

Other teams were nipping at Rhode Island's heels by the end of Saturday, including Stevens Institute of Technology and the University of Central Florida (which finished second in 2010).

Last year's winner, the University of Michigan, suffered software problems and had a bad day, failing to even get through the starting gate. The team's programmers planned to work on their algorithms late into the night.

To see recaps of the first two days of the competition, Friday, 10 June, and Saturday, 11 June, go to the AUVSI Foundation website,

To see a webcast of the final day, Sunday, 12 June, from 1:00-5:00 EST, go to To find out the final results immediately during the awards dinner on Sunday night, follow the AUVSI Foundation at @AUVSIFoundation on Twitter.

California State Northridge Takes Top Honors at IGVC
By: Danielle Lucey, June 7, 2011

California State Northridge and its robot Red Raven placed first in the 19th annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition, held on the campus of Oakland University this week. 

The team placed in three of the competition’s four categories, the autonomous, navigation and design challenges, leaving only the JAUS challenge untouched. 

The team relied on LabView 2009 to control its algorithms and had a dynamic frame inspired by the Mars Rovers, which allows it to maintain stability by keeping its center of gravity very low. 

The Red Raven, also called the Red Robotic Autonomous Vehicle, had all electronics centralized to one circuit board.
A major obstacle the team had to overcome was the distortion provided by their wide angle lens, which was distorting how their mapping seemed to the robot. The robot this year was brand new, but student team leader Nicholas Keyawa says they’ll likely built upon the same robot next year. 

The autonomous competition this year required a 1 mph minimum speed for robots, which proved to not be a problem for the 4.5 mph top speed on grass for Red Raven. 

The large team consisted of 18 people, mostly seniors. About 15 were electrical and mechanical engineering students, and three student volunteers that traveled with the team. 

“I love my team, I love my college,” said Keyawa after the win. “This has been the greatest experience of my life.”


T3I Connects Autonomous Car Tech Decision Makers
By: Danielle Lucey, May 25, 2011

This week, the Transportation Technology Transfer Initiative, or T3I, kicked off a series of efforts by AUVSI to further the state of ground robotics relating to autonomous driving and vehicle connectivity.

Co-sponsored by NDIA, the two-day conference, held in Arlington, Va., brought together leaders from government, associations, military and car companies for an idea exchange on how the separate areas could come together to create an eventually driverless future.

That vision’s initial steps are currently in the works, according to many speakers. Representatives from Toyota Motor North America, Volkswagen’s Electronics Research Lab and General Motors discussed their companies’ many autonomous and vehicle-to-vehicle communication concepts, like using wireless media to allow communication between cars or infrastructure, an autonomous parking valet that drives your car through a smart phone app or Segway-style urban electric vehicle concepts.

The Department of Transportation said it is working on enabling vehicle-to-vehicle communication, with a test study it said will be complete in 2013. President of the Connected Vehicle Trade Association Scott McCormick echoed those numbers, adding that the 2013 data should enable rulemaking by 2015-2016, with the added possibility of automakers using driver correction technology to make unintentional crashes or off-road driving an impossibility by 2040.

Chris Urmson, the technology lead for Internet giant Google’s self-driving car initiative, showed how much advancement could be achieved in a two and a half-year cycle given the dedicated money and staff, sharing lessons learned on driving seven modified Toyota Priuses more than 100,000 miles along West Coast roadways — with a man behind the wheel as a safety measure. Urmson, one of the participants in Carnegie Mellon’s entries in the DARPA Urban and Grand challenges, admitted that when Google initially approached him, he was skeptical why an Internet company would want to dip its toe into driverless cars.

“They really honestly are about solving big, important problems,” he said.

Big important problems were also drivers for many other speakers at the event: TARDEC and NASA discussed how they leveraged ground vehicle technology to overcome massive challenges, namely anti-ordnance measures in Afghanistan and far-away data collection on the surface of Mars.

Though all these areas are disparate, an overarching theme of cultural acceptance was a battle for nearly every area involved.

Jose Gonzalez, deputy director for land warfare and munitions under the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said that the cultural shift necessary inside the Department of Defense to use autonomous systems is likely even larger than the chasm of public acceptance, with the exception of anti-IED work.

“The stand off it provides the human to do that function is tremendous,” he said. “This is an area where no one will dispute you.”

Technical challenges, he said, like perceiving and understanding the situation under all conditions, power issues, communications and predicting behavior, are prime for the T3I conference and future T3I work to overcome.

“This is the area where we have an opportunity as a new T3I community to work with you all and find ways to share information, share challenges.”

To push the technology further and also drive up the social awareness of driverless cars, Christopher Frangione from the X-PRIZE Foundation said a $10 million autonomous car challenge is in the works.

“We want to make this the most worthwhile to this community but also the general public,” he said.

Though X-PRIZE has this concept, Frangione said that the organization prefers to define the problems related to a technology versus create a singular idea of what the solution is. For their prize competitions, they’re “really pulling guys out of the garage that are not tied to the community,” he said.

Though this year’s conference is over, AUVSI is committed to continuing its work with driverless cars, leveraging the knowledge from these different communities and allowing them a forum to work together to solve common problems.

“I have seen nothing but tremendous professional acts and endeavors to make sure we advance this technology,” said Michael Toscano, president and CEO of AUVSI. “This is a revolutionary technology with an evolutionary approach and that’s what we’re trying to put in place.”

AUVSI plans on having more sessions on driverless car technology at this year’s Unmanned Systems North America Conference, held in Washington, D.C., 16-19 Aug.

For more information on driverless car technology, click on the issue of Mission Critical magazine located on the top left side of AUVSI’s homepage,

Gray Eagle Flies at Night Under First Sense and Avoid COA
By: Brett Davis, May 23, 2011

The U.S. Army has begun night flights of its Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft using a ground-based sense and avoid system, says Viva Austin, product director, U.S. Army Unmanned Systems Airspace Integration Concepts.

Flights began on 25 April at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems' El Mirage, Calif., location, under a year-long certificate of authorization from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which is working with the Army and the company to collect data from the flights. The flights involve coordination between the FAA, the Army Airthworthiness Authority and General Atomics, builder of the Gray Eagle.

It's the first COA granted for a sense and avoid system and allows for night flights without a chase plane, something that Austin says hasn't been done in years. Flying at night helps ease the time burden for testing and training, which previously all had to occur in the daytime.

“What we wanted to do was give them [the Army] the ability to do some of that testing and training at night time,” she tells Unmanned Systems. “We proposed this ground-based sense and avoid system, a series of ground based sensors that feed information back into a computer that does the math for detecting [aircraft] tracks and tells the operator when it's safe to fly in that airspace.”

The COA allows for dusk-to-dawn flights of Block 0 or Block I Gray Eagle aircraft, although so far the flights have started at midnight and gone until 5 a.m. The skies above El Mirage are generally clear at night, so the first night of flying the Army had 67 percent “green light time,” she says, which climbed to 95 percent the second night.

FAA officials are closely monitoring the flights for the first 40 hours, after which the Army will be responsible for most of the monitoring.

“We've had an average of over 80 percent operational time,” she says. “On the safety side of things, the system performed as it was designed.”

So far, the only glitch was in a self-test system which didn't affect safety, she says. As part of the shutdown procedures, the operators introduce fake aircraft tracks to verify that the alarm would go off if a real aircraft were detected. On the second night of the flights, that system double-checked with the radar, saw the tracks weren't real and wouldn't sound the alarm.

The Army is currently not flying as it works to address that issue, Austin says, but the COA is still in place.

Austin says plans are underway to expand the operations there, including creating a “tunnel” of airspace where a Gray Eagle could fly from El Mirage to protected airspace at nearby Edwards Air Force Base, expanding the testing and training envelope even further.


U.S. Helps Capture Bin Laden

By: Danielle Lucey, May 18, 2011 10:37 AM

Anonymous U.S. officials have confirmed the use of stealth unmanned aerial systems in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden earlier this month.

The UAS were used “because they needed to see more about what was going on” a former U.S. official told The Washington Post.

The aircraft used was the Lockheed Martin-made RQ-170, also known as the Beast of Kandahar, according to the Post’s sources. Initially, the National Journal reported the use of the Sentinel on its Twitter page.

The imagery from the Sentinel was used by President Barack Obama and his national security team to watch the U.S. Navy SEALS raid the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound. The now famous photograph of Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a slew of other high powered national security officials in the Situation Room depicts them looking at imagery from the Sentinel, says the Post.

The Sentinel, unlike the high-profile Predator and Reaper UAS used to monitor Pakistan, is incapable of being detected by radar.

“It’s not like you can just park a Predator overhead — the Pakistanis would know,” said a second official, who spoke to the Post anonymously.


UAE Unmanned Systems Rodeo Winning Team Heading to AUVSI Symposium
By: Brett Davis, May 10, 2011

Eleven teams faced off in the first Unmanned Systems Rodeo in the United Arab Emirates in early May, with Team Robotics from Dubai Men’s College taking the top prize, an all-expense paid trip to AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2011 in Washington, D.C., courtesy lead sponsor Northrop Grumman.

The AUVSI Foundation will host the students at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2011, where the team will discuss its system design.

Northrop Grumman aerospace engineers traveled to UAE and served as mentors to the teams from the Higher Colleges of Technology, which included two teams from the Abu Dhabi Women’s Campus. AUVSI Foundation Executive Director Daryl Davidson served as a judge for the competition, along with representatives from Higher Colleges of Technology, Northrop Grumman and Abu Dhabi Autonomous Systems Investment.

“Northrop Grumman is honored to sponsor this competition that fosters new types of innovation in the UAE,” Wes Bush, CEO and president of Northrop Grumman, said in presenting the award. “The rodeo provides an opportunity to transfer knowledge and technology to the younger generation, which is an important element of the strategic vision established by UAE leadership. I’m confident that the enthusiasm we saw at this year’s rodeo competition will inspire its expansion and will further encourage tomorrow’s generation of Emirati scientists and engineers to develop similar ground-breaking technologies for the future.”

The competition, scheduled to become an annual event, was organized by the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis and hosted by Higher Colleges of Technology.

Arlington, Texas Police Department Set to Utilize Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
By: Melanie Hinton, May 5, 2011

The Arlington police department will soon be utilizing an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to provide an extra level of security to the city. The UAV was acquired with grant money from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for Super Bowl XLV.

Arlington is the first U.S. city to receive a certificate of authorization (COA) from the FAA to fly over an urban area.

According to City Councilman Robert Rivera, the hope of the UAV is to provide an extra level of public safety and to help traffic-crash investigations and search-and-rescue-missions.

"Anytime that we can utilize progressive methods to increase our level of public safety, that's what we're doing and that's what we're looking at," said Rivera.

But the use of unmanned systems has raised questions about privacy across the country. Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said, ""The police chief thinks they will be a huge advancement in public safety that will allow officers to view the entire city through aerial surveillance."

"With terrorist attacks and everything else going on, I don't think it's a bad idea," said Arlington resident Eric Vandervoort, who lives near Cowboys Stadium.

According to Mayor Cluck, the city is currently looking into finding funding to operate the drone.

Click here to read more.

Sentinel UAV spied on bin Laden prior to successful mission
By: Brett Davis, May 2, 2011

A Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel stealth unmanned aerial system spied on Osama bin Laden the night before the special operations unit raid that successfully killed bin Laden at his mansion compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to an initial report by the National Journal.

The U.S. Air Force has never released a photograph of the Sentinel, developed by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, but it does acknowledge its existence, earning it the nickname the “Beast of Kandahar,” after the airfield it operates out of in Afghanistan.

The fatal attack was made by U.S. soldiers operating through Joint Special Operations Command, which is comprised of special forces from multiple U.S. military organizations. The Sentinel’s stealth nighttime spy mission was in conjunction with JSOC ground spotters, according to the National Journal.

A senior intelligence official, speaking 2 May at the Pentagon, said there were "multiple sources of intelligence, you know, that led us to where we are today with respect to this compound." Aside from information from detainees, "we had other sources — I can't describe those — that helped with the final intelligence picture," he said.

Though its capabilities have never been formally outlined, the mission suggests the Sentinel is an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, whose multiple secretive missions might have consistently been related to bin Laden. The RQ UAV designation indicates that the system did not carry any weapons. The stealth body of the aircraft lead experts to speculate that the system was being used either over Iran or Pakistan, since the Afghanistan Taliban, according to a 2009 AFP news agency report, does not use radar systems.

Initial reports of bin Laden’s death speculated that bin Laden might have been killed through an armed Predator UAS strike. Though the aircraft didn’t ultimately take part in Sunday’s mission, Predator was initially sent to Afghanistan during a 60-day trial mission in 2000 dubbed “Afghan Eyes,” in anticipation that the unmanned system had the potential to target bin Laden with cruise missiles.

UAS attacks more than tripled under the Obama administration and the leadership of Leon Panetta in the CIA, particularly along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, since experts initially theorized bin Laden’s hideout was in that mountainous region.

Obama recently nominated Panetta to become the next Secretary of Defense. Gen. David Petraeus, current commander of U.S. Afghanistan forces, has been nominated to replace Panetta.

AUVSI Congratulates Military Forces on Bin Laden Operation
By: Melanie Hinton, May 2, 2011

AUVSI congratulates the U.S. military forces who pursued and killed the number one target in the war on terror, Osama Bin Laden. The killing of Osama bin Laden is an enormously significant moment in the global fight against al Qaeda terrorism.

AUVSI is proud of the role that unmanned systems continue to play in the fight against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in the global war on terrorism.

"AUVSI will continue to support and work with the unmanned systems community to develop the technologies to help our armed forces pursue and win the global war on terrorism," said AUVSI President/CEO Michael Toscano.

Oregon House Urges Congress to Allow for UAS Test Flights over Rural Areas
By: Melanie Hinton, April 28, 2011

In an effort to kick-start a flagging aviation economy by setting aside airspace above the high desert to flight-test unmanned aerial systems (UAS), on 27 April the Oregon House passed
Joint Memorial 20, which urges the U.S. Congress to enact legislation requiring the FAA to expedite the approval process for unmanned aircraft testing in rural areas.

The goal of bill is to attract developers and manufacturers to the region by creating a remote testing area by carving out some of the military airspace where the Oregon Air National Guard and other combat pilots currently train.

"It's about drones and jobs. ... The important part for us is jobs," said Rep. Jason Conger, a Bend Republican who presented the memorial for a floor vote.

But there are hurdles in the way. UAS designed for commercial applications are prohibited in general aviation airspace, and testing can be done only in restricted military airspace or via special certificates issued by the FAA.

Though private pilots and hang gliders have questioned the idea, the memorial passed unanimously without debate. It now moves to the Oregon Senate.

AUVSI Joins Coalition to Protest Threat to GPS
By: Melanie Hinton, April 14, 2011

AUVSI recently joined the Coalition to Save Our GPS to resolve a serious threat to the global positioning system. Lightsquared has been granted a conditional waiver by the FCC to build 40,000 ground stations in the U.S. that could cause widespread interference to GPS signals — endangering a national utility which millions of Americans rely on every day.

AUVSI President Michael Toscano sent a
letter to FCC Chairman Hon. Julius Genachowski expressing the industry's concern about the decision to grant Lightsquared a conditional waiver to build its high-powered terestrial transmitters and use a radio frequency adjacent to the lower-powered Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite frequency.

"Because these frequencies are in the same radio spectrum range, the high-powered, terrestrial-based transmitters will drown out or significantly interfere with the weaker GPS signals, rendering GPS receivers unusable.

"All around the world, unmanned systems (air, ground, and maritime) rely on accurate, dependable GPS signals. The lack of a reliable GPS signal poses a serious threat to our public safety and national defense, and the potential cost of retrofitting or replacing affected GPS receivers would be an undue burden. For this reason, AUVSI has joined the Coalition to Save Our GPS in order to emphasize the importance of protecting our GPS."

AUVSI is encouraged that the Federal Communications Commission has decided to establish a working group with industry and federal agencies to study the potential interference concerns. Such a significant change to the frequency spectrum should always be open for a full public comment period. It is our hope that any potentially harmful interference issues will be fully resolved before LightSquared, or any other similar applicant, is allowed to move forward with building terrestrial transmitters and operating on a frequency that could render GPS useless.

For more information on the Save Our GPS Coalition, visit

Homegrown Unmanned Systems Increasing at LAAD 2011
By: Brett Davis, April 13, 2011

RIO DE JANEIRO — An increasing number of indigenous Brazilian unmanned aircraft designs are popping up at this year’s Latin American Aerospace and Defense (LAAD) show here, as manufacturers move to boost their hold on the Brazilian market and begin to eye export possibilities.

Flight Technologies, based in Sao Jose dos Campos, introduced its new Horus 100, a smaller member of the Horus family of vehicles. The hand-launched Horus has a flight time of one hour and a “fly-by-payload” capability.

The company’s co-founder and executive director, Nei Brasil, says the Flight Technologies has increased its presence in the unmanned systems market in the last few years and is thinking about exporting into other Latin American markets, as well as forming partnerships with larger companies in Europe and North America.

The company also manufactures the Horus 200, a larger UAS with a duration of three hours and a typical operational altitude of up to 1,500 meters.

Brasil says the company is also active in the Avibras Falcao program, which is developing a still larger UAS, one closer in size to a Predator. Brasil says Flight Technologies developed the software for that system and it’s “ready to go.”

Renato Bastos Tovar, general manager of international business development for Avibras, says the Falcao is in the second stage of its development and should be ready for flight testing this summer.

“The main point here is that we have a tactical UAV” that can carry electro-optical and infrared payloads, as well as synthetic aperture radar, and which has a long range and 15-hour endurance.

Falcao has been developed in cooperation with the Brazilian armed services and the science and technology ministry, but moving to the third stage of development, which would lead to a production aircraft, will require a contract, Tovar says.

Falcao has a range of 2,500 kilometers when operated via satellite, an endurance of 15 hours and has automated takeoff and landing capability.

New smaller systems are represented at the show as well. Gyrofly Innovations is showing a small quadrotor, the Gyro 500, which has carbon fiber arms and propellers and silent brushless motors. It can fly up to 500 meters in altitude and has an endurance of up to 25 minutes.

There is a lot of choice and competition in the quadrotor UAS market and Gyrofly isn’t the only one at the show. There are also international competitors, including from California-based Datron, which has demonstrated its Datron Scout extensively overseas and is exhibiting at LAAD 2011.

Flight Technologies’ Brasil says that while interest in unmanned systems is increasing in Brazil, he’d still like to see more energy in the market.

“There is a lot of energy, there are a lot of players, but it’s not enough energy,” he says. “I’d like to see more.”

Robots/AUVSI take over Capitol Hill
By: Melanie Hinton, April 12, 2011

As part of National Robotics Week, AUVSI and AUVSI Foundation took over Capitol Hill. While university students demonstrated their team-built unmanned ground vehicle systems (UGVs) in front of the Capitol from 9-11 April, AUVSI members visited Congressional offices and exhibited their wares in the Rayburn House Office Building Foyer on 11 April.

AUVSI members and exhibitors met with more than 100 Congressional staffers to discuss issues of national and international importance while raising awareness of unmanned systems.

In front of the Reflecting Pool outside the hallowed halls on Congress, teams from Bob Jones University, City College of New York, Fordham University, University of Central Florida (UCF), University of Delaware, University of Massachusetts Lowell — Mass., and U.S. Naval Academy showed off their UGVs, many of which will be in competing this June at the annual Intelligent Ground Vehicles Competition in Michigan.

Reflecting on the day, AUVSI President/CEO Michael Toscano said, “This was an outstanding event where we were able to raise awareness of unmanned systems and their potential among Congressional staffers. We also were able to show our support for National Robotics Week, which has strong support on the Hill.

“Events like our Hill Day with the exhibit hall and the student demonstrations in front of the Capitol give our members and students a great opportunity to expose their products and capabilities to a wide influential community in Congress.”


Rep. McKeon: "2015 for NAS integration may be too slow"
By: Melanie Hinton, April 8, 2011

The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, approved last week by the House of Representatives, calls for the FAA to come up with a plan to fly unmanned aicraft in the National Airspace System by 2015, among other unmanned systems-related provisions.

Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee and co-chairs the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, says “that was a good effort” but more needs to be done. “Passing it here doesn't make it law,” he tells AUVSI in an exclusive interview. “We need to focus and get it done in the Senate.” The 2015 date should be an “outside” date, he says, adding, “I would like to see it done as soon as possible. The whole industry is moving so rapidly that we shouldn't get in their way.”

The caucus hosted a briefing in 2010 that included government and business leaders as well as AUVSI and other stakeholders. Rep. McKeon says it may be time for another.

“I felt that was productive, but I've had some feedback since then that indicates everytrhing we heard at the meeting hasn't been forthcoming. That would probably be a good one, to line up another one of those as a follow-up. And then maybe we might have to do some oversight hearings … FAA doesn't come under our jurisdiction but we're all interested in the same thing, and that's progress. … And if you've got airspace tied up it ends up costing more for testing. We don't want to do that. I think that would be another good follow up meeting.”

See the complete interview with Rep. McKeon, and an update on AUVSI's advocacy efforts, in the May issue of Unmanned Systems magazine.

FAA to Continue Processing Emergency COAs in Event of Government Shutdown
By: Danielle Lucey, April 8, 2011

The Federal Aviation Administration will continue processing unmanned aircraft certificates of authorization with a limited staff in the event of a federal government shutdown.

However, all normal COA and special airworthiness certificates will be put on hold.

The FAA has outlined the following necessities for obtaining an emergency disaster UAS COA request:

1. A situation exists that is defined as a condition of distress or urgency where there is, or has the extreme possibility of loss of life
2. Manned flight is not possible due to a hazard, or the operation cannot be conducted safely with manned flight
3. The proposed UAS is operating under a current approved COA.

The governor of a state or the president must also declare a disaster request.

Federal Aviation Administration Re-Authorization Bill
By: Melanie Hinton, April 4, 2011

Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), Chairman of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus (CUSC) is pleased with the advancement of unmanned systems in H.R. 658, The Federal Aviation Administration Re-Authorization Bill.

“The language contained within this bill promotes the safe integration of unmanned systems into the national airspace. Carefully integrating these systems by 2015 will improve our border defenses, public safety, and emergency response systems,” stated McKeon.

H.R. 658 requires the FAA to develop a safe, detailed plan to integrate Unmanned Systems in the national within 270 days from its date of enactment. The bill further advances unmanned systems integration by requiring the FAA to define both equipment airworthiness and pilot requirements.

“Although this bill is a step in the right direction, I have concerns with the FAA’s languid Certificate of Authorization requirement for public unmanned systems. Our state and local law enforcement agencies need a faster, more responsive process. Our neighborhoods deserve safer streets, and these systems can help provide that.”

McKeon added, “I am confident we can continue to work with John Mica, Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the Federal Aviation Administration as they develop a safe, thorough and detailed plan to assist our state and local public safety organizations.”

“I’m pleased that the UAV language in the FAA reauthorization would help unmanned systems provide the information needed to protect our borders and our communities. I will continue to work to provide resources, equipment and technology to protect and secure the United States of America,” said Congressman Henry Cuellar, co-chairman of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus.

The goal of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus is to educate members of Congress, stakeholders, and the public on the strategic, tactical, law enforcement and scientific value of unmanned systems.

The Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus recognizes the overwhelming value of unmanned systems in the scientific, intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security communities. The members of the bipartisan caucus are committed to the growth and expansion of these systems in all sectors. More information is available at


AUVSI Applauds Passage of House FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act
By: Danielle Lucey, April 1, 2011

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) applauds the House of Representatives for passing Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011 (H.R. 658), by a vote of 223 to 196. The bill includes important language on integrating unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into the national airspace system (NAS).

Working with House leaders, AUVSI was successful in making a number of changes to the UAS provisions in the bill. Specifically, the bill would:

1) Set a deadline of 30 Sept. 2015 for integration of commercial UAS into the NAS;

2) Require a comprehensive plan for integration into the NAS within nine months, after consulting with the unmanned aircraft systems industry;

3) Require the FAA to simplify its application process for law enforcement and public safety agencies within three months;
a. Once the application process is simplified, law enforcement and public safety agencies will be able to operate UAS weighing less than 4.4 pounds, within the line-of- sight of the operator, less than 400 feet in the air, during daylight hours, within Class G airspace, and outside five miles from any airport.

4) Create four UAS test sites;

5) Define small unmanned aircraft as weighing less than 55 pounds;

6) Require annual reports to Congress on UAS activities; and

7) Start the official rulemaking process within two and a half years.

AUVSI President/CEO Michael Toscano praised the UAS sections of the bill saying, “UAS have the potential to revolutionize the aviation and aerospace industry globally. These systems play a vital role in our nation's security and defense; however, recently, the potential benefits of civilian use of UAS in the United States have been hampered due to a lack of standards and consistent regulation. "On behalf of our community, AUVSI applauds Congress for passing this Bill and providing a timeline to more expeditiously and safely integrate UAS into the National Airspace System thus allowing for the increased use of UAS for beneficial civilian uses such as border surveillance, law enforcement surveillance, search and rescue, disaster response, weather research, wildlife monitoring, agricultural applications, power line surveillance, and wildfire monitoring, among others.”

The Senate passed its FAA bill (S. 223) earlier this year.

In the coming weeks, AUVSI will be working with House and Senate leaders to come up with a compromise bill that expedites the safe integration of UAS into the NAS.