U.S. Navy Drones With A Mind Of Their Own – A $100 MILLION Program

Navy Drones With a Mind of Their Own (Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2014):

Newly Unveiled Technology Runs on Tablet App, Enables Unmanned Aircraft to Choose Flight Routes and Landing Sites

WASHINGTON—Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder has positioned himself to become the Jeff Bezos of the Pentagon.

Much as the Amazon.com Inc. AMZN -3.18% founder envisions mini-drones that deliver small packages across America, Adm. Klunder, the Navy’s research chief, wants to create innovative unmanned helicopters able to perform tasks now carried out by humans: resupplying troops in remote areas and rescuing wounded Marines from the battlefield.

His plan is moving ahead, and Navy officials will unveil new technology Saturday that with the push of a button allows helicopters—manned or unmanned—to choose their own routes, take off and land.

The Navy views the five-year, $100 million program as a major advance in the Pentagon’s hopes for taking the “manned out of unmanned” aircraft. Over the next decade, the military is aiming to create autonomous drones that can help soldiers carry out night raids, search oceans for trouble, and select targets for attack.This is “truly leap-ahead technology,” Adm. Klunder said of the new autonomous helicopter advances.

“What we’re talking about doing with full size helicopters—and we’ve done it—we’re talking about delivering 5,000 pounds of cargo,” he said.

The Navy program has put the system through successful test runs at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va.

Using a special app and a tablet, operators given only a half-hour of training were able to direct small helicopters to land on their own. The helicopters can choose their own routes, pick landing sites and change their destination if they spot unexpected obstacles that emerge at the last minute.

Autonomous technology will make it easier for the military, which won’t have to rely on highly trained operators to route and land helicopters.

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