Inside Unmanned Systems

JUN-JUL 2019

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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50  June/July 2019 unmanned systems inside Photo courtesy of CDL Systems. the software is now being used by the U.S. Army on a number of its systems, as well as by a yet-to-be-announced commercial customer. "Our core business has always been unmanned vehicle control," said Dustin Engen, the Calgary, Alberta, firm's busi- ness development manager. "So, over the last 25 years the software that CDL Systems has produced has over 1.5 million f light hours across about 40 vehicles, the bulk of which is [on] the U.S. Army's com- mon controller." That controller, the Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS), is used to f ly the Army's three primary, larger UAS—the Hunter, the Grey Eagle and the Shadow. The next generation of that Army soft- ware is now being offered commercially. Called VCSi—the "i" is for international— it has already been chosen by a company for a new High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drone being tested this summer. CDL is under a nondisclosure agreement, but Engen did say the UAS company was using the software to control four or more multiple drones at the same time. Such multi-drone operations are "very much aligned with where the market's going," said Engen. "A lot of the historical stations you'll see are very much designed around one or even multiple operators controlling a single vehicle. And this com- mercial customer is using VCSi to control multiple vehicles from a common control- ler for long periods of time." At least one other user is trying VCSi for multi-drone control — it is f lying four UAS at a time. But VCSi has the capability to expand that number substantially. In fact, Engen said, the software could support a drone-based delivery service or swarms of UAS doing pipeline inspections. The key is the management-by-exception approach being used in the VCSi software. Where human pilots are now very directly involved in f lying UAS, VCSi will allow a vehicle to proceed with pre-programmed missions or tasks, having the operator step in only if an issue arises. "So we built the user interface to enable one operator to be really effective with a lot of drones. So a future use case you might envision is a delivery drone that is receiv- ing automated mission plans from some system and VCSi could be acting as that manager or supervisor console where they largely undertake the tasks—and the user steps in only when something's wrong or human input is required," Engen said. MULTI-DOMAIN CONTROL VCSi's versatility extends beyond handling multiple drones to managing multiple kinds of unmanned vehicles. That is, the software can control ground and surface marine ve- hicles—all with the same hardware. Developing a common controller ad- dresses some of the practical challenges of training time and space. Training time can not only be reduced but the same number of trained staff can be more versatile across systems and they won't need to set up a room full of different kinds of stations to deal with a large multi-domain operation. Having one control station for marine, land and air vehicles also brings together all the data into a single place and gives the operator a much better picture of what's go- ing on. During an event, for example, an unmanned aircraft could capture the big picture from overhead, enabling the opera- tor to identify critical areas and then send automated boats or ground equipment to take samples or provide support. Though multi-domain efforts are still uncommon in the commercial world, R&D programs are beginning to emerge in the military. NATO in particular is looking at what would be involved in developing a multi-domain control station. CDL is on VCSi can control a fi xed-wing drone like Lockheed Martin's Condor, which is used for tactical intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and targeting support. "We built the user interface to enable one operator to be really eff ective with a lot of drones." Dustin Engen, business development manager, Lockheed Martin Canada's CDL Systems, Collins Aerospace Ground Systems DEFENSE COMMERCIAL NEXUS

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