It’s been less than a month since the Marines flew their first robotic supply helicopter on its debut combat mission in Afghanistan. Already, the amphibious combat branch is working on the next generation of pilotless cargo copter — one that’s an order of magnitude more sophisticated, and can be controlled by an iPad or other tablet.
The Navy, on behalf of the Marines, launched the so-called Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System program late last year. According to program documents, the goal of the six-year-program is to produce an “unmanned and potentially optionally-manned” robot to “provide affordable and reliable rapid response cargo delivery to distributed small units in demanding, austere locations and environments.”
Robotic supply vehicles, including the Marines’ remote-controlled K-MAX (pictured) plus driver-less Army cargo trucks and even autonomous forklifts, are one subject of my new book From A to B, just out from Potomac Books.
But AACUS, pronounced “ache-us,” isn’t meant to be just one robot design. Rather, it’s the brains of many models of robot. The idea is to produce a set of sensors, software, computers and controls that can be installed aboard almost any Vertical-Take-Off-and-Landing aircraft, including helicopters and potentially tiltrotors or evenducted-fan vehicles. “We want to show that we can plug-and-play across different rotorcraft and VTOL aircraft and get some level of guaranteed performance,” Missy Cummings, the program director, tells Danger Room.