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Army Tests Autonomous Black Hawk Helicopter 125

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong? dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A specially equipped Black Hawk was recently used to demonstrate the helicopter's ability to operate on its own. In the first such test of its type, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research's Development and Engineering Center, based at Redstone Arsenal, flew the Black Hawk over Diablo Mountain Range in San Jose, Calif. Pilots were aboard the aircraft for the tests, but all flight maneuvers were conducted autonomously: obstacle field navigation, safe landing area determination, terrain sensing, statistical processing, risk assessment, threat avoidance, trajectory generation and autonomous flight control were performed in real-time. 'This was the first time terrain-aware autonomy has been achieved on a Black Hawk,' said Lt. Col. Carl Ott, chief of the Flight Projects Office at AMRDEC's Aeroflightdynamics Directorate and one of the test's pilots."

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Army Tests Autonomous Black Hawk Helicopter

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  • Skynet (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @11:16PM (#42200039)

    Skynet. That is all.

    • by pitchpipe (708843)

      Skynet. That is all.

      This story is just a fabrication by Skynet trying to scare us all. Skynet is really a fat nerd sitting in his mom's basement trying to 'score' with 'chicks'.

    • Skynet? Am I the only one around here who watched Airwolf? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airwolf [wikipedia.org]
      • I remember watching it, but when I read this story, all I could think was "I for one welcome our new SkyNet overlords".

        • Nah, this is but one of a number of necessary steps before SkyNet can actually rule.

          All it can do now is launch missiles and such with various warheads.

          Work like this and the DARPA stuff with autonomous vehicles, drones, and such are all needed to be completed before SkyNet chooses to reveal its presence, power, and control.

          Almost there. Not quite yet, but getting close...
  • Great! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BlueStrat (756137) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @11:22PM (#42200097)

    That means that when the US government sends them out on domestic civilian pacification/suppression/reconnaissance missions, the people can shoot them down without feeling bad about killing people. It's too bad the government does not share such reluctance.

    Strat

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by BradleyUffner (103496)

      That means that when the US government sends them out on domestic civilian pacification/suppression/reconnaissance missions, the people can shoot them down without feeling bad about killing people

      You mean other than the people that the downed chopper crashes on?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BlueStrat (756137)

        That means that when the US government sends them out on domestic civilian pacification/suppression/reconnaissance missions, the people can shoot them down without feeling bad about killing people

        You mean other than the people that the downed chopper crashes on?

        Oh, right. Better to let the chopper go ahead to it's heavily-populated target unmolested with that fuel-air bomb than risk the chopper crashing.

        My bad.

        Strat

    • Re:Great! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by wmac1 (2478314) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @03:11AM (#42201313)

      Or it can be an Apache helicopter shooting at civilian people and no one can be criticized of killing them. The copter has malfunctioned.

    • How exactly do you plan on shooting down a black hawk helicopter? I mean, what weapon will you use? Bird shot's not going to do it.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        And this is why automatic weapons are illegal. All you need is some intake hits.

        The best way to take down a helicopter? A quadcopter trailing steel cable with a weight on the end. You will lose the quadcopter, which is a small price to pay really.

        • lol I'm not sure either of those would work, unless the automatic weapon is large enough caliber. The reason automatic weapons are illegal is because city slickers are afraid of them.
          • by cusco (717999)
            Pretty much anything larger and harder than a duck sucked into the intake will take out a jet engine. My wife saw a military helicopter go down when it hit power lines, cables do nasty things to supersonically-rotating blades.
      • by BlueStrat (756137)

        How exactly do you plan on shooting down a black hawk helicopter

        Well, even one of these would make life very stressful indeed for a hostile Blackhawk, especially if you can secure some AP ammo. With several fighters equipped with these, that Blackhawk may quickly be doing a Mogadishu re-enactment.

        http://www.gunsinternational.com/Browning-BAR-Grade-II-69-Belgium-30-06-Blond-Wood.cfm?gun_id=100304244 [gunsinternational.com]

        My father carried the full-auto military version in WW2. He told me it would punch holes in German light-armor like half-tracks, armored cars, etc. Even with standard FMJ ammo

        • But heck, even without AP ammo, if one were to put a .50BMG round through both the side-doors, passing through without actually striking anything, the shockwave alone from the .50BMG round would likely kill or incapacitate anyone within a few feet of the rounds' path.

          OK seriously, stop posting urban legends. There is no super deadly shockwave that comes off a 50 BMG round. It's a supersonic round and like anything supersonic it will produce a sonic boom sure, but the worst the sonic crack is gonna do is maybe make your ears ring if it passes close enough, as the noise level is around 120-140db.

        • Come on man, pretty near any gun will go through a brick wall (not dirt/adobe).

          The Jihadis in Afghanistan are rarely able to take out helicopters.
    • Well, there's another point of view to this...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mogadishu_(1993) [wikipedia.org]

      Extract:

      "During the operation, two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by RPGs and three others were damaged. Some of the wounded survivors were able to evacuate to the compound, but others remained near the crash sites and were isolated."

      Remember, this operation was UN-mandated, after civil war had led to an estimated 500 000 deaths.
      I don't agree with everything the US does, but in this was NOT the s

    • by tibman (623933)

      hahah. Domestic pacification in the United States isn't a robot helicopter with weapons. It's television!

  • Meh (Score:5, Funny)

    by sycodon (149926) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @11:23PM (#42200101)

    I saw these at a kiosk at the Mall the other day.

    • You jest, but I am seriously not impressed.
      What we see is an autopilot system for a helicopter that performs its job in perfect weather. Such systems already exist: http://www.pilotoutlook.com/helicopter_flying/autopilot [pilotoutlook.com]

      "A risk-minimizing algorithm was used to compute and command a safe trajectory continuously throughout 23 miles of rugged terrain in a single flight, at an average speed of 40 knots"

      Wow, impressive. Especially the 'rugged' part. And the 40 knots (~75 km/h) part. And the fact that it kept a s

      • It also had people on board and was a test of the systems. No doubt that once the systems are proven, the people will come off, and the thing will be run lower and lower and faster and faster until it would cause even battle-hardened pilots to soil their drawers.

        A computer can act on inputs a lot faster than humans. The only thing (and it is a big thing) that humans have going for them is complex thought and the ability to think abstractly while maneuvering for the kill.

        But a computer-controlled and a
        • I completely agree: Autonomous UAVs are the future.
          That doesn't change how underwhelming this particular story and the accompanying video are.

  • So? (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by JasoninKS (1783390)
    My first thought is "So what?" Granted, pretty darn good for a first test. But these were very ideal looking conditions. Try it in real world conditions and then get back to me. Cloudy days, rain, fog, high winds, snow and ice, sandstorms...I'd bet any of those would throw this thing for a big loop.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My first thought is "So what?" Granted, pretty darn good for a first test. But these were very ideal looking conditions. Try it in real world conditions and then get back to me. Cloudy days, rain, fog, high winds, snow and ice, sandstorms...I'd bet any of those would throw this thing for a big loop.

      I can see you at Kitty Hawk. 'Pretty darn good for a first test Orville, but blah blah blah'.

      • Re:So? (Score:5, Informative)

        by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Thursday December 06, 2012 @04:42AM (#42201657) Journal

        Why did this AC get marked insightful while the other guy who pointed out that military tests have been VERY favorable to the objects being tested for...ohh... I'd say the last 80+ years?

        What the military considers a "test" and what happens when you actually use the thing in combat conditions have been shown time and time again to be nowhere close, this goes all the way back to the mark 14 torpedo in WWII that the military said passed all the tests with flying colors, yet in reality if the thing didn't just blow up in the middle of the water because the magnetic exploder was faulty it would go completely under the target since it ran as much as 25 feet too deep or it would just clang against the hull of the ship since the contact fuse was also shit. the only good thing about it was when the damned thing turned on you you at least had just as much chance as the enemy of it turning out to be a dud, which is why we only lost two subs to it.

        So if anything those ratings should be reversed, as its pretty common knowledge that with the DoD and the defense contractors so chummy the tests are rigged as much as possible to give the thing being tested a favorable outcome, be it giving the Patriot a low flying level target coming in at a known height and trajectory,, similar conditions being given to the Phalanx, hell I could sit here and list weapons that passed military "tests' with flying colors only to turn out to be crap in the field all day, its not exactly like this is a revelation here.

        • Re:So? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Quila (201335) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @11:03AM (#42203667)

          Or sometimes last-minute changes to production are made that completely invalidate the tests.

          Take the M-16, great in final tests, but soldiers were dropping like flies in Vietnam because their rifles were jamming. Turns out the Army chose a different powder manufacturer for production cartridges, and this caused fouling and corrosion of the chamber and barrel, and increased the rate of fire beyond design specs.

        • Well, I'm not saying the testing was rigged by any means. And it really is impressive that it worked that well for the first big field test. I'm sure there were many issues in the initial lab tests.

          What had triggered things in my mind was when we first went to Iraq under Bush senior. Our tanks were shut down because they didn't want them sucking in all the sand into their air intakes. Same with our jets...sand would've trashed those engines in a heartbeat. And our advanced weapons couldn't "see" tar
          • by hairyfeet (841228)

            But don't you see? That is part of the problem, the DoD and the MIC are so in bed together that they make these tests a bad joke! They test it in perfect weather, not too hot, not too cold, on some nice green grass covered testing range, with a target that they know EXACTLY what its height, speed, and direction are gonna be then they say this "proves" the thing is capable when in reality you are more likely to win the powerball than to get those exact conditions in combat.

            I'll never forget what they did fo

            • You make valid points. Are they in bed together? Don't honestly know. Would it surprise me? Not really. And I'd imagine some of the weapons makers come up with the tests themselves. It passes, I'm more likely to get DoD funding to keep paying the bills. It fails, I've burned a ton of money.

              Still, I'll give some benefit of the doubt simply because there's no proof otherwise. I still call this a very initial test under prime conditions. That it works at all really is impressive. I won't argue tha
              • by hairyfeet (841228)

                Look up "defense industry revolving door" into the search engine of your choice, you'll find all the proof you'll need. its no different than how the member heading a committee on ISP regulations quit after passing a VERY favorable to ISPs bill to go and work for Comcast, or how more than half the lobbyists in Washington are former congress critters, look that up and you'll see a pattern going back decades of those in charge of testing and procurement retiring only to go work for the defense industry. Hell

                • Actually the Iraqi SCUDs broke up because the Iraqi engineers lightened the missiles in order to increase the range.

                  A Soviet SCUD-B had a range of about 190 miles and a 1700 pound warhead.

                  An Iraqi Al Hussein had a range of 400 miles and a 1100 pound warhead

                  The breakup on reentry didn't hurt accuracy all that much, since a SCUD-B has no terminal guidance anyway and it made it hell to try to hit because you had a long stream of wreckage acting as chaff and hiding the warhead.

                  One good place to watc
                  • by hairyfeet (841228)

                    Thanks for the links Crosshair, i bookmarked them so I can watch 'em when I'm off work. But honestly those videos i doubt I'll find surprising, we have been seeing the same shit since WWII, where an inferior design gets babied through testing and bought (for an insane profit for the contractor) only to find out its completely worthless in the field, the Mark 14 torpedo just to give one example. That thing was so shit the sub drivers could hear the things clanging against enemy hulls so would have to just em

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Well, given how massively complex and difficult it is to fly a helicopter, the fact that it didn't go spiraling into the ground (which I'm sure the human pilots would have tried to avoid) -- I think any form of autonomous flight is pretty impressive.

      The aircraft flew at an altitude between 200-400 feet about ground level. As part of the field navigation tests, the aircraft's system was able to autonomously identify a safe landing spot within a forest clearing and then hover 60 feet over the identified landi

      • by Alex Belits (437) *

        I'd call that pretty impressive -- automated terrain following in a helicopter isn't exactly an easy task.

        Balancing standing on two wheels with high center of mass is a very difficult task for a human, however Segway does it easily with very primitive microcontroller.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Well, given how massively complex and difficult it is to fly a helicopter, the fact that it didn't go spiraling into the ground (which I'm sure the human pilots would have tried to avoid) -- I think any form of autonomous flight is pretty impressive.

        Not really. Military helicopters have long been able to self-stabilize. Apache is rumored to do it. Comanche definitely does it. Is it really that more complex to control a helicopter than a quadcopter? It's more complex to build, certainly.

  • including the use of weapons? (Next logical step)

    • by Seumas (6865)

      Not until we've perfected the targeting system, so it will only kill brown people and indigenous populations.

  • by codepigeon (1202896) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @12:06AM (#42200437)
    I am sure there will be many posts about 'big brother' and the evils of the government, but I have to say....cool.

    I have always been interested in robotics. This is just amazing to me. We have moved so fast (in regards to computing), I can only imagine what will be common place in the next decade.

    p.s. It would be awesome if they posted the algorithms they used for this. I won't hold my breath.
    • The control algorithms, IMU processing, hell even very good terrain data are all openly available. Some time in a engineering library searching papers will even turn up reams of applications to helicopters specifically.

      Even very good image systems are available.

      What's changed is the processors to make use of all those are both rediculously cheap and light.

      Human pilots.. your time is coming.

  • by kilodelta (843627) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @12:09AM (#42200451) Homepage
    This is sort of scary to me. It is as though we're living in the age of SkyNet yet most of us don't know it.
    • by ultranova (717540)

      This is sort of scary to me. It is as though we're living in the age of SkyNet yet most of us don't know it.

      And yet, for most people, just what would be the difference between Skynet and the current order? A coldly rational computer isn't going to start a world war, since that would destroy the very infrastructure that feeds it, while humans have done so twice and come darn close to starting a third one multiple times. So, should Skynet take over, would most people even notice?

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        So, should Skynet take over, would most people even notice?

        Would you notice the difference between a little bugshit in your candy bar, and a candy bar made entirely out of bugshit? The premise is that Skynet is trying to kill all the humans, TPTB are only trying to kill most of the humans.

        • The premise is that Skynet is trying to kill all the humans...

          Which seems quite illogical as long as SkyNet is not superior to humans. Original thinking and coming up with new stuff is quite hard for an A.I., despite our best efforts to teach it to them. We're able to create A.I. which are good problems solvers...but a problem solver can not come up with innovation, not much at least. As long as SkyNet is not superior to a human. As the problem solver would most likely have figured out by then that humans don't like to be killed, and go *way* out of their way to avoid

      • by gagol (583737)
        Fuck Skynet, I vote for Colossus.
        • by kilodelta (843627)
          I was waiting for someone to mention Colossus: The Forbin Project. "This is the voice of World Control....Obey and Live". That has to be one of the more scary AI movies out there. I do wish they'd do a remake on that one though the classic, even at it's low budget managed to get the point across loud and clear.
  • Where's my $100 plane ticket to Australia?! (Note: far from Kangaroos at this point.)
  • by Pecisk (688001) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @01:03AM (#42200765)

    Ok, I'm seriously missing something. Is that my paranoid gene? So all tech now will be bad, because all tech can be used to kill people? Seriously?

    Come on, idea of Internet was conceptually concieved by military for communication infrastructure to survive localized nuclear attack! So it must be bad too!

    I'm the only one who sees beneficts of this, or drones... Or Slashdot has long time ago lost it's common, humor and cool head senses and I'm preaching to wall here?

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      The problem is that is further dehumanizes killing, and the US has a history of treating non-US citizens as sub-human (e.g. not respecting their human rights, killing large numbers of civilians by mistake and then using terms like "collateral damage").

      Back in school the teacher posed a question for debate. If you were presented with a button that if pressed would kill some anonymous person you had never met on the other side of the world with no consequences to yourself, other than receiving £1,

    • seriously. my first thought was coast guard search & rescue.
    • by cusco (717999)
      Actually the Internet was conceived by a few sys admins who were tired of having five different terminals on their desk so figured out how to have one system communicate with the others. The salescritters then sold it to ARPA as something else.

      Design a helicopter that can autonomously deliver cargo from one rooftop to another in Manhattan? That's cool. Design a helicopter that can autonomously slaughter people? That's a fucking waste of money and researchers' time.
  • by Fnord666 (889225) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @01:08AM (#42200797) Journal
    Good for them. Maybe they can use this to finally get the Osprey to fly as well.
  • All looks military grade but this bathtub cork on a cheesy chain attached to the scanning thingy (LIDAR?)...huh?

  • This is well and good, but what happens when a Marine types 'FLY HARD' into the console and hits return?

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7783335/ns/us_news/t/reckless-pilots-problem-us-military/ [msn.com]

  • But if they don't have pilots who are they going to make contenders in an execution that's fronted as a TV game show?

    • by Coisiche (2000870)

      Which got me thinking... if you're going to deploy helicopters against civilian food rioters[1] then it's probably better to have them under machine control rather than a pilot who is likely to come from a civilian background.

      [1] Sadly, I don't think that this is an impossibility, even in developed nations.

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