New software stabilises UAVs

The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency and the US Air Force Research Laboratory have launched a major initiative to develop new software-enabled control systems for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) have launched a major initiative to develop new software-enabled control (SEC) systems with applications to intelligent Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

The Boeing Phantom Works and the Georgia Institute of Technology recently demonstrated a key component of the SEC program: an Open Control Platform (OCP) designed to give future UAVs more capable flight control systems.

In the demonstration – using the Georgia Tech test bed UAV helicopter the GTMAX – the Open Control Platform successfully compensated for the simulated in-flight failure of a low-level flight control system by reconfiguring the SEC software systems autonomously.

The test is said to have demonstrated the ability of the OCP, developed by the Boeing-led team, to co-ordinate sensing, flight control algorithms and actuators to allow autonomous dynamic low-level flight control reconfiguration.

The SEC program includes 16 organisations divided into SEC technology developers of control-related algorithms and SEC developers of the software infrastructure platform, which enables the design and implementation of such advanced control routines.

The OCP, a new object-oriented real time operating software architecture, has been developed to meet this challenge.

The OCP is based on a real-time, distributed object-oriented system architecture known as RT CORBA. While system fault tolerance still needs to be addressed and is planned for initial demonstration this summer on the GTMAX system, the OCP represents an advance in open systems that are able to handle large volumes of data and computations in real time.

‘One of the significant challenges is a required update rate of 100 Hz because of the dynamic nature of the helicopter system,’ said Daniel Schrage, a professor of aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech and co-principal investigator for the project.

‘If you do this with an open, plug and play system, that normally means sacrificing performance,’ added Schrage. ‘Achieving this kind of performance from the open control platform is a real milestone. But we still have a long way to go in realising the goals of this effort, including ensuring the flight safety of these UAVs.’

Beyond the reliability of responding to unexpected system faults, the SEC program will also give the machines more agility, helping them to avoid hostile actions without exceeding critical flight parameters.