Using an electric RC helicopter called a Draganflyer (manufactured by Draganfly Innovations Inc) MIT is developing a system to allow multiple flying craft to work together under computer control, performing surveillance and monitoring tasks. MIT calls this their UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Swarm Health Management Project.
MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is using the Draganflyer RC helicopter in their UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Swarm Health Management Project, which is focused on surveillance and monitoring of ground based objects or vehicles. The goal is continuous monitoring using multiple autonomous vehicles in swarms, with distributed intelligent computer control and minimal human supervision. The multi-vehicle testbed developed by MIT uses several Draganflyer four rotor electric RC helicopters and a computer tracking and positioning system to monitor and control multiple unmanned aerial vehicles. The components of the system communicate with each other through Ethernet connections.
Even though the vehicles used are unmanned, each one would normally require its own ground based pilot, operating it by remote control. What MIT’s system does is place multiple UAVs under computer control. This removes the need for constant human attention and piloting. Not just one, but multiple UAVs, can be directed with MIT’s system via a remote connection. A swarm of unmanned aerial vehicles could be used to monitor a convoy or keep watch over a border. This could be especially useful to the military. The use of multiple UAVs would allow constant aerial surveillance, with new vehicles launched to take the place of ones in need of recharging or those that have been damaged.
The aerial vehicles used are quad-rotor miniature electric radio control helicopters called Draganflyers, measuring about two feet across, manufactured by Draganfly Innovations Inc. These electric RC helicopters are unlike standard model helicopters, because they use 4 rotor blades (one on each corner) to generate directional thrust which is used to maneuver. The use of four rotor blades makes the Draganflyer RC helicopter simpler and more reliable than a standard helicopter, eliminating the need for all of the mechanical linkages required for maneuvering using a conventional single main rotor. The Draganflyers used in MIT’s project are the same radio controlled helicopters used by many hobbyists, and are available from Draganfly Innovations on-line store. The specific models used by MIT are the Draganflyer V Ti RC Helicopter, and Draganflyer V Ti Pro Video RC Helicopter. “We are extremely pleased that MIT has chosen our Draganflyer RC helicopters for use with this ground breaking project” says Zenon Dragan, president of Draganfly Innovations Inc.
MIT’s system makes it possible to have a number of aerial vehicles flying completely under computer control, able to do tasks like surveillance or tracking, all while keeping each individual vehicle from colliding with any of the others. Watch this video: MIT UAV Search and Track Video. The vehicles can all be coordinated on the same task, or be used in groups or individually. The computer control allows for a swarm of UAVs to be flown at once. This removes the necessity for teaching pilots how to manually fly each aircraft, allowing the entire swarm to be directed remotely by a single person. The swarm of Draganflyer RC helicopters are able to launch, land, and recharge, all under computer control. MIT has even demonstrated the ability to land a Draganflyer on a moving object while completely under computer control.
MIT’s UAV SWARM Health Management Project is being developed by Professor Jonathan How, with graduate students Mario Valenti, Brett Bethke, Daniel Dale, Xiaojie Hu, and administrative assistant Kathryn Fischer. They are working with Boeing’s Phantom Works research unit. There is a large amount of interest in this project, and in UAVs in general. The worldwide UAV market is currently worth billions of dollars, and is expected to expand by a factor of three in the next decade.
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