A week-long field market research demonstration of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones, concluded on July 31 at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) in support of the United States Army’s unmanned ground vehicle program. The demonstration was organized by the National Advanced Mobility Consortium and hosted by the institute.

Data collected during the event will be presented to the Army to assist the federal government in evaluating the current state of the industrial base and inform future investments to mature and accelerate UAS to unmanned ground vehicle integration technology applications. Accordingly, the event focused on specific system criteria and data collection efforts as defined by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, Ground Vehicle Systems Center, Ground Vehicle Robotics.

“The National Advance Mobility Consortium would like to thank all the personnel from VTTI that helped with this event.  VTTI was great to work with. They stepped up and did a lot of the labor behind the scenes to make this event a success. NAMC picked this site due to the large area that we could use for the demonstration, and they bent over backwards to make sure they could accommodate what we were asking for,” said Jon St John, senior program manager for NAMC.

Six technology providers were invited by NAMC to demonstrate the maturity and technology readiness of their systems, which fell under one of the following categories:

1. Early Stage Integrated Systems: Complete and fully integrated early prototype systems currently capable of autonomously launching, landing, and securing a tethered or tether-capable multicopter, housed in an independent enclosure, from a surrogate ground combat vehicle on the move in a straight path over level terrain or in a nonlinear fashion over nonlevel terrain.

2. Early Stage Subsystems: Prototype subsystems relevant to autonomously deploying, launching, landing, and securing a tethered or tether-capable multicopter, housed in an independent enclosure, from a surrogate ground combat vehicle.

Over the course of the demonstration, each UAS navigated four courses on the Virginia Smart Roads: a gravel road, a paved road, a dirt road/trail, and an off-road trail. These tracks, which varied by terrain and complexity, reflected the breadth of advanced vehicle testing capabilities on the Smart Roads for every road type (highway, surface, and rural) found in the United States.

“This demonstration project will allow the U.S. Army to see the latest and greatest in UAS technology and could help support further development of the technology that could be used in future combat operations,” said Martin Walker, senior research associate for VTTI’s Center for Truck and Bus Safety.

Throughout the event, several precautionary measures were implemented for the safety of visitors and employees, including:

  • No more than 30 industry personnel were in attendance.
  • All areas were scrubbed/cleaned prior to arrival of attendees each day.
  • Sanitizing wipes were provided for the wiping down of work areas and tables, shared vehicles, and hand-held radios. All shared equipment was also properly wiped down before its next use.
  • Although attendees were asked to bring their own personal protective equipment (PPE), NAMC and VTTI had additional PPE on hand to supply as needed, along with cleaning supplies.
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