AHS International, The Vertical Flight Technical Society, has announced that the winner of its 2018 Howard Hughes Award is an Office of Naval Research (ONR) autonomous helicopter project team that included researchers from both the Robotics Institute and the RI spinoff Near Earth Autonomy.
The award recognizes an outstanding improvement in fundamental helicopter technology that has been brought to fruition in the previous 18 months.
The ONR's Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) team developed and successfully demonstrated a fully autonomous helicopter flight capability. Over the course of the five-year project, the AACUS team designed a hardware and software applique "kit" that enables the host helicopter platform to interpret and execute high-level logistics mission tasks.
ONR has said such a system could perform automated military resupply missions in the field. Sanjiv Singh, professor of robotics and Near Earth Autonomy CEO, foresees broader applications that will transform the way people and goods are transported.
A Robotics Institute team headed by Systems Scientist Sebastian Scherer led development of AACUS motion-planning software that determines flight trajectories and landing approaches. Singh led a second group at Near Earth Autonomy that developed the sensor package and perception software, and played a key role in field deployment and testing.
The chief engineer for the prime contractor, Aurora Flight Sciences, is 2011 CMU mechanical engineering alumnus Fritz Langford.
The AACUS project also has been nominated for the prestigious Collier Trophy, which is awarded for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America in the previous year. That award will be announced March 23.