Unmanned Ground And Aerial Vehicles Join Forces To Keep Troops Safe

unmanned ground

Flying drones and driving drones can now collaborate in combined ground and air cooperative missions. An optionally piloted UH-60MU Black Hawk and a self-guided all terrain vehicle create the ultimate unmanned duo, keeping the soft tissue life forms out of harm’s way.

Carnegie Mellon University and Sikorsky have used a UH-60MU Black Hawk helicopter enabled with Sikorsky’s MATRIX Technology and CMU’s Land Tamer autonomous Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) which recently participated in a joint autonomy demonstration that proved the capability of new, ground-air cooperative missions.

In the demonstration, the Black Hawk helicopter was operated in coordination with an  unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), developed by Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC). The UGV Land Tamer all-terrain vehicle combined key elements of several NREC world-class autonomous systems to support missions in difficult environments.

Sikorsky was graciously supplied with the demonstration Black Hawk from the U.S. Army’s Department of Aviation and Missile Research Development. They promptly bolted on their proprietary autonomy kit, dubbed MATRIX, which allows the helicopter to operate sans pilot. Sikorsky introduced the Matrix Technology in 2013 with the intentions of improving the safety and reliability of autonomous and optionally piloted aircraft.  

“The UH-60MU aircraft is a prototype of the UH-60 in a ‘fly-by-wire’ configuration,” said William D. Lewis, AMRDEC director of Aviation Development. “‘Fly-by-wire’ technology is the foundational enabler that facilitates autonomous aircraft operations.”

For this demonstration the aircraft was given a 12 mile route to be flown with the CMU ground vehicle slung below while riding securely in its kennel. After arriving at the predetermined dropzone, the system automatically lowers the cargo and deploys the unmanned ground vehicle. The UGV then continues on an additional six mile course being guided by an array of onboard sensors and continually transmitting data back to a remote monitoring station. These sensors not only detect obstacles it might encounter in its path but also has the ability to sniff out chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) hazards which it reports back to home base.

Allowing these vehicles autumnally navigation into dangerous territory could prevent ground troops potential exposure to hazardous conditions, such as chemically or radiologically contaminated areas.

“The helicopter provides long-range capability and access to remote areas, while the ground vehicle has long endurance and high-precision sensing,” NREC technical project manager Jeremy Searock said.

The exercise, at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center, West Palm Beach, FL, wrapped up a year and a half long project between Carnegie Mellon’s NREC and Sikorsky to demonstrate for the Army autonomous delivery of a UGV by an unmanned Black Hawk helicopter. The collaboration between the UAV and the UGV sure seems to demonstrate the effectiveness of the unmanned system’s ability to access dangerous environments while keeping humans out of harm’s way.


Chris Clarke
Chris is an active pilot who love cars, airplanes and motorcycles.