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Friday, May 06, 2011

From Stealthy Helicopter to Stealthy Robot

The attack on Bin Laden used stealthy helicopters that had been top secret according to The New York Times, refering to aviation analysts, who studied news photographs of the surviving tail section revealing modifications to muffle noise and reduce the chances of detection by radar. The commandos blew up one of the helicopters after it was damaged in a hard landing.

U.S. Stealthy Helicopter Program

The U.S. military first started its helicopter stealth program in the 1980s, with AH-6 Little Bird attack helicopters. In the 1990s, U.S. Special Operations Command reportedly began working with Lockheed-Martin and Boeing to take some of the stealth technology used on the F-117 Nighthawk attack aircraft, and apply it to MH-60 Black Hawks. In 2004 the stealthy Comanche helicopter project was canceled after billions of dollars in cost overruns. With the lack of anti-aircraft threats in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army officials decided that full-scale production of stealth copters was not worth the cost.

U.S. Stealthy Robot Project

Credit: Lockheed Martin

Researchers at Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories (ATL) are working also on future military robotics systems that will be expected to perform with the same context understanding and impact awareness as their human counterparts. These capabilities will be required for both specific missions such as reconnaissance and surveillance as well as in everyday operations. In 2010 ATL has launched a research effort that focuses on developing a robot that could dynamically determine the path of least detection and audibly detect threats. To operate robustly, robots must be capable of perceiving various aspects of the world and reasoning over an integrated world model. Lockheed Martin ATL has developed a multi-layered world model representation that combines obstacles, threats and light sources to create a complete indivisilility model that can be used for planning in complec environments.

The robot is capable to covert robotic movement for reconnaissance, real-time audible detection and avoidance of threats, provides situation awareness via video and still imagery, extends the awareness of the warfighter while reducing risk.

The bot listens for sounds of human activity and the based on those sounds, and some clever programming, makes a guess as to where the humans might be looking. Then, if it needs to, the robot will find itself a dark hiding spot. The robot is equipped with a 3D laser scanner that allows the bot to create detailed maps of the building or area it is in. Along with a set of acoustic sensors that allow the robot to localize footsteps and voices, it can make a fairly accurate predictions about where you are on the map. When the robot sense a human is near it takes its pre-determined escape route to the dark and waits for the danger to pass, which means it may not be so stealthy in places lacking darkness or escape routes.

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