QinetiQ recently demonstrated coordinated command and control (C2) of multiple unmanned aircraft, and their on-board mission system sensors, from a single ground station. The demonstration, at the Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) Centre at Parc Aberporth, Wales, showcased the potential for improving the safety, efficiency and affordability of UAS operations and their commercial use in unsegregated airspace in the future.
As part of the ASTRAEA programme (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment), the demonstration successfully tested QinetiQ’s autonomy software and shared decision-making between the UAS and the remote pilot. The demonstration simulated possible application at major public events using two mini UAS operated by Callen-Lenz. The QinetiQ software provided continuous, optimised asset tasking, as well as individual vehicle track and sensor steering commands to both autopilots via a standard interface over a single Ethernet connection.
The autonomy software works in harness with an interactive display that shows the aircrafts’ knowledge and intent. It allows the remote pilot to verify that the behaviour is consistent with operational intentions or modify as necessary, allowing the pilot to retain absolute authority at all times. The technology is scalable to different numbers, size and class of UAS and can be implemented as an overlay to existing ground control stations.
ASTRAEA is a UK industry-led consortium focusing on the technologies, systems, facilities, procedures and regulations that will allow autonomous vehicles to operate safely and routinely in civil airspace over the United Kingdom. This will be achieved through the coordinated development and demonstration of key technologies and operating procedures required to open up the airspace to UAS. Alongside QinetiQ, the consortium includes AOS, BAE Systems, Cassidian, Cobham, Rolls-Royce and Thales.
“Our motivation is to drive the safety, utility and affordability of unmanned aircraft, particularly for the, as yet untapped, civil and commercial market” said Jeremy Howitt, the QinetiQ programme leader. “The intention is to develop the tools as ‘Apps’ that will allow any third party operator to mix-and-match autonomous capabilities to meet their individual need”.
The demonstration was co-funded by the Technology Strategy Board and the Welsh Government under the auspices of the ASTRAEA programme.