Uc Berkeley Researchers Field Testing Low-Altitute Robo-Computers
The UC Berkeley Aerial Robot (BEAR) group has successfully test-flown model helicopters that demonstrate cutting-edge autonomous flight and obstacle-avoidance technology. “Our BEAR group is the first to successfully develop a system where autonomous helicopters can detect obstacles, stationary or moving, and recompute their course in real time to reach the original target destination,” notes BEAR research engineer David Hyunchul Shim.
This breakthrough is a significant step toward unmanned aerial vehicles that can fly safely through urban or rural environments, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is supporting the BEAR group’s work as part of its Unmanned Combat Armed Rotocraft program for developing low altitude autonomous flight capabilities.
Each model helicopter is equipped with a pair of onboard computers running on a QNX operating system that supports real-time computation; inertial navigation and global positioning systems for maintaining the vehicle’s stability; wireless modems and Ethernet systems to effect communication with ground-based computers; and laser scanners to survey terrain in three dimensions.
The BEAR researchers have also advanced the use of computer vision in flight and landing tests. The collision avoidance technology the group utilizes employs nonlinear model predictive control principles, and BEAR researchers note that the addition of a sensor could help reduce airplane acc
idents. Potential civilian applications for the research include firefighting, search-and-rescue, power line inspection, and monitoring for pests in agricultural i
nstallations. In addition, the BEAR group has developed and successfully tested battery-powered robotic helicopters, which Shim says could find use in long missions because they can be automatically recharged at solar energy stations.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center(NLECTC) from the UC Berkeley News (12/15/04); Yang, Sarah .