Unmanned Systems No Longer Require Human, or Canine, Participation

By Joe Wlad

Joe WladForty-plus years ago, when automatic pilots were first used to perform automatic landings of large aircraft, there was a joke that was circulated among pilots everywhere. Future aircraft would be manned only by a single pilot and a dog. The pilot’s job would be to feed the dog. The dog’s job would be to bite the pilot if she or he touched anything. Today, we’ve advanced well beyond that presageful joke, and airborne systems can now operate autonomously without human, or canine, participation.

One key event taking place this week, that Wind River is exhibiting at, is the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) North America, which showcases the latest trends and technologies in unmanned systems. This event consistently attracts a lot of attention and participation. In fact, this year’s show in Washington, DC is likely to have record participation, which is indicative of the trends we’re seeing in automated and unmanned systems designs.

Ever since hobbyists have demonstrated the ability to control model-sized aircraft using radio signals, engineers conceived of controlling larger-scale unmanned aircraft for both military and civilian purposes. A number of the research efforts for unmanned aircraft over the past two decades have now evolved into larger rate production, and in some cases, deployment in the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones. While this is a tribute to the engineers and architects of these designs, one negative consequence of this success is that we now have many unmanned systems that cannot easily coexist with manned aircraft because lack of standards and regulatory requirements for unmanned vehicles. Moreover, the systems in use today are not interoperable. In other words, each unmanned air vehicle is tied to a unique ground station which increases the cost of design and certification.

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