Pittsburgh, Pa.-based autonomy systems integrator Near Earth Autonomy is partnering with Kaman Aerospace [KAMN] and Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) to develop an autonomy system specifically for the K-MAX helicopter, but with broad applicability to large vertical take-off-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft.
Near Earth previously worked with the Office of Naval Research in 2014 on a smaller sensor and software autonomy package for the Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) project, which has since been implemented on small and medium-sized VTOL aircraft. The company also continued to develop obstacle avoidance technology, working primarily with smaller drones.
The K-MAX helicopters, capable of carrying 6,000-pounds, flew numerous unmanned missions during 33 months of deployment in Afghanistan, moving cargo between forward operating bases and remote outposts, but relied on remote pilots to do so.
Through this partnership with Near Earth, the Navy hopes to validate a more intelligent aircraft and reduce the amount of “manned” in the “unmanned.”
“Using sensors and computing onboard, the aircraft can sense its environment to make real-time flight decisions such as deciding to fly around objects in the flight path and selecting clear places to land or drop off cargo,” Near Earth Autonomy said in announcing the partnership. “Applications for safe autonomous aerial logistics include the efficient movement of military supplies, patients and Warfighters.”
Near Earth says its technology allows the aircraft to autonomously take off, fly, and land safely, with or without GPS. The company’s goal, however, extends beyond the K-MAX.
“Near Earth’s continued work on large-sized transport aircraft builds on past experience, demonstrating that one architecture can work well across a wide range of different aircraft types and sizes,” the company stated.