Volume 5, Number 2 March/April 1997
NEWLY DEVELOPED REMOTE-CONTROLED HELICOPTER will be able to perform precision crop spraying, border patrols, hazardous spill inspection, fire surveillance, crowd security and emergency medical delivery more safely and cost effectively. NASA and the U.S. Army have developed the Free Flight Rotorcraft Research Vehicle (FFRRV), a robotic helicopter that can carry a movie camera, still camera, video downlinks, night vision cameras or infrared cameras. Artificial intelligence techniques keep the chopper stable in flight and allow it to be remotely controlled from the ground.
"An autonomous helicopter could help perform all of these jobs better, more quickly, at a lower cost while not exposing any humans to potentially dangerous situations," said Todd Hodges, an Army employee at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. According to Hodges, who serves as the manager of the helicopter project, the robotic helicopters could also be used for pollution monitoring, law enforcement, bridge and building construction inspection, crop and forest monitoring, mine clearing and other public security tasks. "It could even be used as a carrier pigeon, shuttling supplies and so forth between military locations. The potential applications are pretty wide-ranging," Hodges added.
The FFRRV was initially developed as a tool to test flight dynamics. Hodges and his team were asked to develop a suitcase-portable version, including a small helicopter and a ground control station consisting of a moving map and video monitor. Hodges said there also was the stipulation that the system setup would take no more than 20 minutes.
The prototype helicopters are powered by a modified gasoline engine. The helicopters are about six feet long including the rotor diameter. According to researchers, the FFRRV can fly at speeds up to 60 miles per hour.
Hodges said inquiries about the technology have come in from various federal government agencies, film industry officials, power and pipeline companies and local fire departments.
For more information, contact Nicole Forest at Langley Research Center. Call 757/864-5036.
Please mention you read about it in Innovation.