A team at Carnegie Mellon University and Pennsylvania-based company Piasecki Aircraft have developed and tested a navigation system for a full-size helicopter that allows autonomous flight and obstacle avoidance at low altitudes. The system is based on navigation and planning software developed at CMU for use in robotic ground vehicles. Using inertial sensing and a laser scanner it builds 3-D maps of the ground and finds obstacles in the aircraft’s path.
In a series of tests the system demonstrated detection of a variety of objects that could block a potential landing site, such as four-inch-high pallets, chain link fences, vegetation or people. The system also proved capable of detecting and maneuvering around a 20m high man-lift while flying at a speed of more than 20 knots, and of detecting high-tension wires over desert terrain.
Development of the technology was driven by the goal to allow future unmanned helicopters to evacuate wounded soldiers from contaminated or active battlefields and to resupply military bases in combat zones. The technology could also be used as a pilot aid to help avoid obstacles, such as power lines. Since the software keeps a running rank of possible landing sites and approach/abort paths, another use could be identification of landing sites in emergency situations, including low-light or low-visibility conditions.
More info here: http://www.cmu.edu/news/blog/http://www.piasecki.com/http://www.roboticstrends.com/service_r ... :20:52:00Z