Self-driving cars are in the headlines these days, sometimes in unflattering circumstances.
But the U.S. military is moving past that after a successful test of what essentially is a self-flying helicopter that enables a pilot to focus on the mission at hand,
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said the system, installed in an S-76B commercial helicopter, was successfully demonstrated at Fort Eustis, Virginia, in mid-October.
The helicopter flew over a small crowd, landed in a field after making flight adjustments to avoid a vehicle, then rose up to hover in place for several minutes.
The helicopter, through the new Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System, was operated by novel control interceptors and a tablet.
“Hovering in adverse winds is a task that consumes a human pilot’s attention, but automated flight control achieves ‘rock steady’ precision,” said Graham Drozeski, the DARPA program manager.
He said the system frees pilots to focus on mission execution.
“Really, we want the pilot’s eyes and mind on the fight rather than holding an altitude. That’s the core focus of ALIAS: bringing the latest advances from unmanned aircraft into a piloted aircraft through an interface that provides fluid interaction with the autonomous capabilities,” he said.
Ultimately, it should be able to take on the role of a traditional pilot, officials said.