Are we getting closer and closer to a world of aviation without pilots ? Recent tests have been carried out on a civilian airliner, and more currently, drones are setting up the pace in the Middle East. Now, on July 10th, the Navy moved one step closer to integrating unmanned aircraft into carrier-based operations today, when the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator landed aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). This was the first time an unmanned aircraft has made an arrested landing aboard a modern aircraft carrier. The X-47B completed the 35-minute transit from Pax River to the carrier and caught the 3 wire with the aircraft’s tailhook. The arrested landing effectively brought the aircraft from approximately 145 knots to stop in less than 350 feet. Shortly after the initial landing, the aircraft was launched off the ship using the carrier’s catapult. The X-47B then proceeded to execute one more arrested landing. Check out the video:
Controlling drone aircraft could one day be as simple as waving your arms. Yale Song and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a way of controlling drones taxiing on a runway using gestures. Drones can already land autonomously on aircraft carrier decks, but humans control them during taxiing. With piloted aircraft, navy flight-deck marshals use a codified set of hand gestures to instruct them to, for instance, cut their engines, open weapon bay doors or move to a refuelling bay.
To test whether these gestures could be recognised by a computer, Song’s team wrote an algorithm that analyses 3-second clips from a depth-sensing camera trained on a person performing flight-deck gestures. The system recorded body, arm, wrist, hand and finger positions, and was subsequently able to recognise a flight-deck command correctly 76 per cent of the time.
The team says it is now working on improving recognition levels. The research will appear in a forthcoming issue of ACM Transactions on Interactive Intelligent Systems. “I can’t see why this wouldn’t work ultimately,” says Peter van Blyenburgh, head of UVS International, a drone trade group. “The gestures are clearly defined – an image sensor should be able to pick them up.”
The MIT team isn’t the only one interested in gesture-controlled drones. In 2009, aerospace firm Boeing, based in Chicago, filed a patent on the idea of controlling squadrons of unmanned aircraft using human gestures. That would mean a pilot on the ground covered in motion sensors could control a drone swarm flying overhead.