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Drones that can Autonomously launch and Land from a moving platform are new requirements for Defense and Security

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) ( commonly known as a drone) is an aircraft without a human pilot on board. UAVs are a component of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS); which include a UAV, a ground-based controller, and a system of communications between the two. The flight of UAVs may operate with various degrees of autonomy: either under remote control by a human operator or autonomously by onboard computers referred to as an autopilot.


These vehicles have been used in several types of applications like surveillance, infrastructure inspection, fire fighting, search and rescue, agriculture, border patrol, scientific experiments, and mapping. Communication, sensor and control techniques have evolved over the past few decade that has led to the development of a wide range of UAVs varying in shape,size, configuration, and characteristics. The common types of UAVs are fixed wing UAVs, Quad-rotors and helicopters at different scales (large UAVs or miniature vehicles or microaerial vehicle).


All these applications depend on advancements in vehicle autonomy that will fully automate many of the vehicles functions, including route planning, navigation, obstacle avoidance, landing zone evaluation, autonomous take-off and autonomous landing. One of another useful enhancement of UAV autonomy is the capability to launch and land on a moving platforms such as ground vehicles and ships. This will significantly enhance the reaction time of military and security forces  reacting to dynamic events. In a rapidly shifting and dangerous situation, like a flood, fire, or earthquake, rescue workers might need to launch and land their drones while remaining inside their vehicle and on the move.


In 2016 DJI, the world’s leading maker of unmanned aerial vehicles, joined Ford Motor Company and the United Nations Development Programme to host the company’s annual SDK Challenge on Sunday in Rome, N.Y. The winning team, Autero from San Rafael, California beat nine other finalists to claim the $100,000 prize. The challenge asked for the drone to both launch and land from the bed of a Ford F-150 pickup truck, and developers can use Ford’s SYNC AppLink, or the OpenXC platform to let drone and vehicle communicate with each other. The 10 finalists used DJI’s Software Development Kit (SDK) to write programs that autonomously launched DJI drones from the bed of a moving Ford F-150 pickup, guided them through a simulated disaster site to identify victims and returned to land back on the vehicle. Ford said that although this first challenge has a specific objective, the technology used could have drone-to-vehicle applications in farming, forestry, construction, and a host of other outdoor industries.


However, under present regulations Section 107.25 Operations from a moving vehicle or aircraft are restricted . It states that No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system  Operations from Moving Vehicles. Part 107 permits operation of an sUAS from a moving land or water-borne vehicle over a sparsely-populated area. However, operation from a moving aircraft is prohibited. Additionally, small UA transporting another person’s property for compensation or hire may not be operated from any moving vehicle.


In 2019, NASA JPL Launched the SQUID drone from a moving truck

Researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Caltech University came up with this innovative way of launching a drone quickly. The SQUID drone is launched from a cannon or grenade launcher and deploys once it reaches sufficient elevation.  In the video, the team of researchers launches the SQUID drone from a truck that is moving at 50 mph, in a way that seems so simple, effortless, and dare I say elegant, that it makes you wonder why nobody has thought of this before.


The name SQUID drone is derived from Streamlined Quick Unfolding Investigation Drone. The unmanned aerial system resembled the shape of a football when not yet deployed and measures a little over 10 inches and weighs almost 1.7 pounds. Once airborne the arms and props fold out in under one-tenth of a second and the aircraft is ready to be flown.

The cannon that fires the SQUID into the air works with a pneumatic baseball pitching machine and provides the drone with a 35 mph starting speed. The four rotors are activated at a speed of 200 milliseconds after the drone is launched and the unmanned aircraft can hover in place within a second of being launched.

In the description on YouTube the team tells us: The operation of multirotors in crowded environments requires a highly reliable takeoff method, as failures during takeoff can damage more valuable assets nearby. The addition of a ballistic launch system imposes a deterministic path for the multirotor to prevent collisions with its environment, as well as increases the multirotor’s range of operation and allows deployment from an unsteady platform. In addition, outfitting planetary rovers or entry vehicles with such deployable multirotors has the potential to greatly extend the data collection capabilities of a mission. A proof-of-concept multirotor aircraft has been developed, capable of transitioning from a ballistic launch configuration to a fully controllable flight configuration in midair after launch. The transition is accomplished via passive unfolding of the multirotor arms, triggered by a nichrome burn wire release mechanism. The design is 3D printable, launches from a three-inch diameter barrel, and has sufficient thrust to carry a significant payload. The system has been fabricated and field tested from a moving vehicle up to 50mph to successfully demonstrate the feasibility of the concept and experimentally validate the design’s aerodynamic stability and deployment reliability.



Army Eyes Device That Can Launch, Recover Drones from a Moving Vehicle

U.S. Army robotics officials got their first look in Aug 2018 at an innovative new technology for launching and recovering unmanned aerial systems (UAS) from a moving combat vehicle. Hosted by the Capabilities and Integration Directorate, the event drew 200 participants representing 100 defense industry firms. One of the small firms that stood out was Target Arm LLC, which is developing the Talon UAS launch and recovery system.



Talon is a very “simple design, applicable to any vehicle, wheeled or tracked. That’s very innovative in my judgment,” said Sando, “The ability to launch and recover aircraft from a moving platform really helps our ground formations on a battlefield, where we know they have to move quickly. Anytime you stop, you become a target.” While there were no demonstrations at the event, many of the companies brought white papers to showcase new technologies that might meet the needs of the service’s new Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Initial Capabilities Document, said Col. Thomas Nelson, director of Robotics Requirements at Benning.


The document was approved at Army level in July and “essentially approved by the Joint Staff in August,” Sando said, adding that it will help the service focus its goals for how new RAS technology will communicate with soldiers and other Army systems.  For now, there isn’t an Army requirement for the Talon system, but the technology could be submitted to the Robotic Enhancement Program (REP), Nelson said, adding that the company could submit a proposal “and potentially, there may be Army funding to explore that potential innovative solution further and test it by letting soldiers get hands on.”


Currently, combat vehicles are limited to line-of-sight targeting and surveillance systems, Sando said. “But what if it had its own [UASs] that it could dispatch kilometers and miles in advance just to help me see, help me target beyond line of sight? “So the next thing is how I start to describe and quantify that combat advantage to being able to do that. … Put it in the hands of soldiers and say, ‘OK, how would you use this? Does it really make you better as opposed to stopping and launching a system and then recovering?’ Or ‘Hey, I don’t have to stop at all; I can maintain my momentum. I don’t have to hazard my soldiers by taking them out of a protective combat vehicle.'”



AGV-launched drones for perimeter security

In Nov 2020, Strategic Elements subsidiary Stealth Technologies signed an agreement to collaborate with US based autonomous drone technology company Planck AeroSystems. Stealth Technologies is developing an Autonomous Security Vehicle (ASV) for perimeter security in sectors such as transport, energy, defence, government and utilities providing critical services. The companies will work to enable drones to autonomously launch and land from the Stealth ground based autonomous vehicle platform (AxV).


The Planck Autonomous Control Engine (ACETM) system is an embedded software solution that runs onboard a variety of unmanned aircraft systems to enable autonomous launch, recovery, relative navigation, and mission planning from a moving vehicle. With centimetre-level accuracy for precision take-off and landing, a drone can launch and recover reliably from small spaces. The sensor-guided flight accounts for motion of a vessel or ground vehicle, including roll, pitch, heave, and wind effects.


ACE is deployed in five US federal agencies, and with two allied nations. The ACE system has commanded thousands of successful UAS sorties both at sea and from vehicles, on aircraft from many different manufacturers. Planck is working with the US Department of Defense’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO), the US Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security on various aspects of its technology.


Planck’s core technology is vision-based precision landing on moving platforms without GPS. The precision landing system uses computer vision, artificial intelligence, and other onboard sensors, but does not require GPS or active communications. Existing unmanned aircraft systems use global positioning and are not capable of autonomous operation from moving vehicles.


The Stealth and Planck collaboration will focus on enabling the ASV to launch and land drones. Drones could be launched from the ASV at any time whilst on patrol, effectively doubling the ASV’s surveillance coverage capabilities. Drones could also recharge once landed on the ASV and be relaunched. In addition, the unique perspectives of both the ASV and its drone can be combined to give an expanded patrol and surveillance dataset, enable more powerful AI use cases for mapping, navigation, object and person recognition, object and person tracking and scene reasoning.


The parties say they will also assess the potential of integrating mobile tethered drones with the ASV. This will give additional deployment options for drone-equipped ASVs to work at facilities located near to controlled airspaces and at those that have safety requirements that would normally preclude drone operation (e.g. airports, energy facilities). Traditional ground tethered drones can only fly in a single location, however drones tethered from the ASV could be mobile and move with the ASV whilst airborne.


Planck Aerosystems Establishes Strategic Partnership with FPH Group to Deploy UAS on Military and Tactical Vehicles

Planck Aerosystems (Planck) has signed a partnership agreement with FPH USA, of Roseville, Michigan, and FPH Group, of London, Ontario, (FPH) to manufacture, deploy, and support unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) specifically designed to operate from moving vehicles in austere environments, serving the defense and security market. The partnership brings to bear the unique products and experience of both companies. FPH is a recognized leader in lightweight composite and electromechanical assemblies for military and industrial vehicles. Planck leads the UAS industry in guidance, control, and autonomy products to enable the employment of unmanned aircraft from dynamically moving vehicles and vessels on land or at sea.


“Planck has always been focused on developing and deploying key enabling technologies for mobile operations of UAS. The partnership with FPH will allow us to bring combat-ready integrated UAS securing and enclosure systems to the military and tactical vehicle market.” said Josh Wells, CEO and Co-Founder, Planck Aerosystems and Former US Navy pilot. “As an industry leader in lightweight materials and electromechanical systems for the defense ground based vehicle market, the partnership with Planck allows the companies to offer a full solution to meet the requirements of today’s defense environment.” said David MacMillan, VP of Business and Technology Development of FPH.


Planck’s Autonomous Control Engine (ACE™) product is a mature, commercially available embedded software solution that runs onboard a variety of UAS to enable autonomous launch, recovery, relative navigation, and mission planning from a moving vehicle. The ACE system is deployed in five US federal agencies, and with two allied nations. The ACE system has commanded thousands of successful UAS sorties both at sea and from vehicles, on aircraft from many different manufacturers. FPH-Tough (FPH-T) material is a lightweight, ballistically-tolerant composite that was developed in-house by FPH, for use in armored vehicle light-weighting efforts. FPH’s materials are currently fielded on over 600 ground-based defense vehicles worldwide with the purpose of providing increased strength and durability with significant decreases in weight when compared to traditional materials.


Planck and FPH have worked together over the course of 2020 to co-develop a UAS securing and enclosure system, which will be launched in Q4 2020 with a US Government customer. This system allows an aircraft to be protected from harsh environments, retained securely in a vehicle while operating in severe off-road terrain, recharged while not in use, and released automatically for flight. The system is adaptable to a variety of VTOL UAS and powered from a 12 Vdc vehicle power source. The system is built of FPH-Tough composite material and enabled by Planck’s ACE software stack. Under the terms of the agreement, FPH will manufacture this and future jointly developed products. Going forward, Planck and FPH will jointly develop and deploy additional integrated products to support combat vehicle modernization across the US and allied defense forces.



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