Lockheed/Piasecki Team Tackles Cargo UAV

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What was once a Pentagon research program to demonstrate a flying jeep has been given a new name and a new direction. Formerly called Transformer, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (Darpa) rechristened Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded Systems (ARES) program will now fly a modular, unmanned vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) delivery system.

While a setback for flying-car advocates, it is not unusual for Darpa to stop or rejig a program when the original idea is not working out. In this case, the original idea was to develop a highly automated military vehicle able to fly four people from ship to shore then drive on and off road, taking to the air when necessary to avoid ambushes or roadside bombs.

Under the original Transformer program, a Lockheed Martin/Piasecki Aircraft team was selected over AAI in 2012 to build a prototype fly/drive vehicle. Their winning design combined a manned vehicle with an unmanned ducted-fan flight module that could detach and operate independently.

Darpa reviewed the program early in 2013 and stopped work on the ground-vehicle portion to focus on demonstrating the flight module as a remotely piloted aircraft. “They took a relook at the flying-car concept,” says Kevin Renshaw, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works program manager. “They were not getting a great response [from the services], but they liked the modular VTOL UAV part.”

ARES is seen as a follow-on to the Lockheed/Kaman K-Max unmanned helicopter now being used operationally in Afghanistan to resupply U.S. Marine Corps forward operating bases. Based on the K-Max’s success, the Marine Corps has plans for a cargo UAV program of record and the Army and Navy also have shown interest in unmanned resupply.

In January, Lockheed and Piasecki began work under Phase 3 of the ARES program, which will culminate in flight tests of the ducted-fan cargo UAV. First flight is planned for mid-2015, says Renshaw. Piasecki is building the flight module and its rotating machinery; Lockheed is team lead and responsible for the flight-control software.

For the prototype, the team has stayed with the flight module design developed for the Transformer. The tailless air vehicle has a pair of tilting ducted fans attached to a central wing section and outboard wing panels that tilt with the fans and fold against the ducts when stowed. The detachable payload module fits under the center section, between tall landing skids.



Dubai Could Make Drone Deliveries Before Amazon Does


Jeff Bezos says Amazon hopes to send delivery drones into the air in four or five years. But another large organization will likely get there a whole lot sooner.

Officials in Dubai say the city is experimenting with drones to deliver government documents to citizens. Unveiled this week, the program is the first phase of what officials hope will lead to widespread government use of unmanned aircraft across the United Arab Emirates by next year.

“What these things are best suited for is delivery of small, light value things that are time sensitive, like medicines, identification documents, vital papers and things of that nature,” said Noah Raford, an adviser to UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, according to The National. The drones would supposedly use retina scans and fingerprints to identify intended recipients.

The project shows that Amazon’s plan to deliver packages by drones isn’t completely beyond the realm of possibility. But Dubai operations will be significantly simpler than what Amazon would have to tackle in order to replace good old-fashioned truck delivery.

The UAE’s state news agency, Wam, reports that the prime minister himself, who is also the billionaire hereditary ruler of Dubai, attended a drone test flight. The plan is part of a broader effort by the UAE, and Dubai in particular, to brand itself as a business-friendly innovation hub in the Middle East. As part of the drone plan, the UAE is offering a $1 million prize for the best use of drones for public services.

In tech branding, delivery drones are a great place to start. Amazon got a huge public relations boost when CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the online retail giant’s own delivery drone prototype (and marketing video) on 60 Minutes late last year. Skepticism followed quickly on the heels of the hype, since U.S. regulations would prohibit what Amazon is proposing — and since drones don’t fit the logistical underpinnings of Amazon’s business anyway. If Dubai gets its drones airborne before Amazon, the city could claim to have beaten one of the world’s most admired technology companies to the skies.

Dubai has many advantages over Amazon in getting to drone deliveries first. As a monarchy, the emirate of Dubai is structured a lot like a business, with its ruler (Shiekh Mohammed’s official title) as CEO. Except he’s a CEO who gets to set the rules for doing business.

The UAE also benefits from a plan that is less ambitious than Amazon’s. The country is focusing on a small selection of items to deliver across a small geographical area. And citizens, unlike customers, don’t have other options if the service doesn’t end up working well.

Either way, the UAE’s effort doesn’t look great for Amazon. If it works, Amazon will have lost the race. If it doesn’t work, Amazon will be under more pressure to say why its drones will work out better. If they ever get off the ground.

Via: http://wrd.cm/1iSM5EM

DARPA’s hot for futuristic helicopter-like delivery drones


In hard-to-reach war zones, it can be near impossible to get supplies to ground soldiers or conduct rescue missions without coming under enemy fire or landing in minefields.

Spurred by these logistical issues, the US Department of Defense in its DARPA division is pushing to develop unmanned helicopter-like aircraft — aka drones — for supply runs, airborne reconnaissance missions, and casualty evacuations.

Not your ordinary drones, these futuristic machines will be designed to carry up to 3,000 pounds, have their own power system, fuel, digital flight controls, and remote command-and-control interfaces. As envisioned by DARPA, troops will be able to control these unmanned aerial vehicles with mobile apps on their smartphones or tablets.


Game of Drones: Yes, Quadcopter Fight Clubs Exist

Following the popularity of those battle bots from a few years ago, it only makes sense that someone, somewhere, would pit quadcopters against each other in a battle to the death—or at least first crash.

Sure, these events might have been cooked up to promote an extra-tough quadcopter airframe that’s being funded through Kickstarter, but does that make this indoor aerial combat any less entertaining? Absolutely not. Would you buy tickets if a similar event came to your town? Without a doubt. Maybe the real money here isn’t in airframes.

Via: http://bit.ly/1dfWBoF