Army researchers are working on a program that would pair autonomous unmanned
aircraft with ground robots.
A demonstration of this networking capability is scheduled for October, at
Fort Dix, N.J., under the oversight of the Communications-Electronics Research,
Development and Engineering Center.
The program itself “is still in the gestation period,” said Charles
Shoemaker, chief of robotics at the Army Research Laboratory. “What we
are doing this year is pulling together all the relevant pieces. Some of us
have already been thinking about some interaction of air-ground.”
NUGAS, short for Networked Unmanned Ground-Air Sensor, would find its use for
battle damage assessment, detection of suspicious packages, urban combat, or
simply to cover a wide area.
“It is a way of covering a lot of real estate without having to actually
maneuver around, by pairing air and ground,” Shoemaker said in an interview.
“Suppose that you saw a suspicious truck by the side of the road that
you picked up from the air vehicle, you might then send over a ground robot
with a sniffer that works with a different phenomenology than the air vehicle.”
For the demonstration, ARL is providing the aerial platform—the R-MAX
helicopter, developed by the Japanese company Yamaha.
The pilotless helicopter was initially developed for crop dusting applications
in Japan. It has a 70-pound payload and is operated by remote control.
It includes Global Positioning System and laser radar to detect objects. Carnegie
Mellon developed the sensor technology.
The air vehicle will be operated from the control station of the ground robot,
said Shoemaker. Using the ground vehicle in conjunction with the helicopter
will give the soldiers a broader selection of sensors and payloads that the
airframe does not employ. “A single soldier can influence the situation
that takes place in [an] area both by extending his ability to view the terrain
and to examine things more closely.”
A ground vehicle can stay in position for a much longer period of time than
a UAV, said Shoemaker. The network combines the information received by the
helicopter’s sensors and the laser radar with the information generated
by the ground vehicle. That combined information is transferred into a digital
With data flowing both from the air and the ground, soldiers would be able
to “fly down the road and see if there is a safe route, and then run the
UGV to detect if there are things that you can’t see from the air,”
he said. “That is an instance where the whole is more than the sum of
the individual parts. You can get more information than you can get with either
Combining the two unmanned systems provides more accurate data of the terrain,
said Jeff Jaczkowski, an Army engineer. “You can do better pre-mission
Shoemaker cautioned that the Army is in the early stages of evaluating potential
applications for this network. Live demonstrations will be augmented with simulation
and modeling, Shoemaker said.
The biggest challenge in this program, he said, is identifying the points of
“major leverage” and pinpointing the best combination of an air-ground
team of robots.