Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

MIT team guides airplane remotely using spoken English

05.11.2004


Aeronautics researchers at MIT have developed a manned-to-unmanned aircraft guidance system that allows a pilot in one plane to guide another unmanned airplane by speaking commands in English.

In a flight test, the pilotless vehicle, called a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), responded to sudden changes in plan and avoided unexpected threats en route to its destination, in real time. "The system allows the pilot to interface with the UAV at a high level--not just ’turn right, turn left’ but ’fly to this region and perform this task,’" said Mario Valenti, a flight controls engineer for Boeing who is on leave to pursue a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. "The pilot essentially treats the UAV as a wingman," said Valenti, comparing the UAV to a companion pilot in a fighter-plane squadron.

Tom Schouwenaars, a Ph.D. candidate in aeronautics and astronautics, and Valenti are principal researchers on the guidance system, which is part of the capstone demonstration of the Software Enabled Control (SEC) program. Professors Eric Feron and Jonathan How of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (aero/astro) are among the principal investigators on the SEC program. The SEC program is a five-year, inter-university effort sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) through the Air Force Research Laboratory. As industry partner, Boeing provided the avionics test platform for the MIT guidance system and the planes used to demonstrate it.



The new guidance system is designed for volatile combat situations. For instance, a pilot might be commanded to gather images of an enemy site located in unknown territory. Rather than putting himself in danger, the pilot could assign a nearby UAV to the task. The UAV moves toward the enemy site, avoiding known threats (no-fly zones) and the unexpected (radar emanating from a missile site), all the while communicating its actions to the pilot in the other aircraft, which follows behind at a higher altitude and a safe distance. The technology also could have applications in the coordination of multiple air or space vehicles, such as in air traffic control or the reconfiguration of distributed satellite systems.

The guidance system performed flawlessly in flight tests involving a Boeing F-15 fighter jet and a Lockheed T-33 trainer fighter jet at Edwards Air Force Base in June. A pilot in the manned F-15 issued mission-level commands in everyday English--"fly to Task Area B"--to the T-33, and the T-33 executed them, maintaining a trajectory safe from threats, and at one point adjusting to a last-minute change in the predetermined mission plan. The T-33 was a substitute for the actual UAV in the test. It was manned by a pilot and crewperson who were on board to manage the aircraft in case of failure, but the vehicle was controlled entirely by MIT’s software, which ran on laptops placed inside each plane. "Through the recent experiments, the SEC program has demonstrated advanced behaviors that may now be integrated into the next generation of unmanned vehicles," said John Bay, DARPA’s SEC program manager.

A paper published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in August discussed the results of the flight test in more detail. Aero/astro graduate student Yoshiaki Kuwata and James L. Paunicka, associate technical fellow at Boeing Phantom Works, authored the paper along with Feron, How, Schouwenaars and Valenti. Schouwenaars’ work on autonomous trajectory-planning algorithms earned him the AIAA’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Graduate Award, which he will receive at a conference in Reno, Nev., in January.

Teaching English to an airplane

Three elements combine to make MIT’s manned-to-unmanned air vehicle guidance system more flexible and more "intelligent" than previous systems. First, the team worked with Teragram Corp., a software company specializing in language technology, to create a natural-language interface through which the two vehicles communicate and coordinate their actions. The interface translates the pilot’s human language into the UAV’s machine language, and vice versa. "It allows us to task machines at a higher level, improving safety and efficiency," said Feron.

Second, Valenti designed a task scheduler that keeps track of the oft-changing mission data from the manned vehicle and interprets it into tasks the UAV can perform. The task scheduler is integrated with the third element, Schouwenaars’ safe-trajectory-planning algorithm. The algorithm is based on mixed-integer linear programming (MILP), an optimization framework originally developed for operations research. Feron and Schouwenaars started applying MILP to the problem of aircraft routing in 2000. Unlike earlier technologies, MILP allows trajectory planning that can guarantee against collisions. Moreover, the trajectories can be computed while the vehicle is flying, requiring no pre-planning.

Using the off-the-shelf optimization software CPLEX, Schouwenaars fine-tuned the MILP-based guidance technique to enable the UAV to choose the fastest safe path to its destination--and then change course in a split second when faced with a new command or a sudden obstacle. The June flight tests marked the first time that a manned air vehicle used a MILP-based guidance system to control a UAV.

Already, said Feron, "the aerospace industry is using our system in its most advanced UAV programs." He and his team are currently working toward implementing their guidance technology in systems with multiple air vehicles. Their work is being done in MIT’s Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems. A version of this article appeared in the November 3, 2004 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 49, Number 8).

Elizabeth Thomson | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Communications Media:

nachricht Tile Based DASH Streaming for Virtual Reality with HEVC from Fraunhofer HHI
03.01.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Nachrichtentechnik Heinrich-Hertz-Institut

nachricht Product placement: Only brands placed very prominently benefit from 3D technology
07.07.2016 | Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt

All articles from Communications Media >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A big nano boost for solar cells

18.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Glass's off-kilter harmonies

18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed

18.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>