With support from US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), Pittsburgh-based Near Earth Autonomy (NEA) is partnering with Kaman Aerospace to develop an intelligent autonomy system for the K-MAX helicopter, a large-scale transport platform capable of lifting a 6,000lb payload.

This capability developed will be broadly applicable to large aircraft that can take off and land vertically and will offer a large set of commercial and military applications.

In 2014, NEA worked with the US Office of Naval Research to develop a package of sensors and software for testing autonomy on a full-scale helicopter in the Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) project. Implementation of that technology has continued on small and medium-sized platforms under the Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) programme for the armed forces. NEA’s continuing work on large transport aircraft builds on its past expertise, demonstrating that one architecture can work well across a wide range of different aircraft types and sizes.

Using sensors and computing onboard, the aircraft can sense its environment and make real-time flight decisions, such as deciding to fly around objects in the flight path and selecting clear places to land or to drop off cargo. Applications for safe autonomous aerial logistics include the efficient movement of military supplies, patients and troops. Autonomous large-scale heavy transport also enables commercial applications for delivery and urban air mobility.

An autonomous delivery capability for payloads of up to 6,000lbs has potentially significant impact for military applications. (Photo via Near Earth Autonomy)

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