Autonomous system scenarios

Being from rural northeast Iowa, I am always excited when I see computer technology news from the area. Known more for its agriculture than its computer technology, news related to the latter is, at best, very infrequent. Imagine my excitement the other day when I saw technology news that additionally has potential impact on the world of VITA technology!

A June 25th press release from Rockwell Collins and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that they had scheduled joint risk reduction tests that will eventually enable unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to safely operate in our national airspace. The release was inviting the media to attend but unfortunately I received the release a couple of weeks too late.

The testing, completed in late June, was focused on testing a data link waveform and the ability of a single tower to communicate to multiple aircraft. The waveform will eventually be released as a public resource to help the industry and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) develop an appropriate set of rules and requirements for unmanned operations in the national airspace system. This testing was part of the research project’s first phase.

“The number of active UASs is only going to grow in the future,” said Alex Postnikov, a principal engineering manager in the Advanced Technology Center (ATC) at Rockwell Collins. “Rockwell Collins and NASA are in an exciting position to ensure there is a safe and secure communications link between the pilot on the ground and the unmanned aircraft in the air.”

“We tested at different altitudes, different frequencies, and through different modes of operation,” said John Moore, principal systems engineer for Rockwell Collins. “We wanted to see if the system operated as we expected it to. We’re happy to say things went very well.” Moore added that Rockwell Collins will participate in research and testing through 2016. The goal is for the FAA to issue a technical standard order for UASs by 2017.

Unmanned air and ground vehicles are quickly becoming a normal part of our everyday lives. Besides all of the airborne vehicles we hear so much about, there are the efforts by the likes of Google with demonstrations of driverless automobiles. States are now starting to look into revising rules of the road or they are already passing legislation to manage the integration of unmanned vehicles into the open road.

All kinds of scenarios for driverless aircraft and automobiles are emerging, from Amazon package delivery with drones to the FBI warning that driverless cars could be hacked to become lethal weapons by criminals. I am sure new, innovative use models will emerge, some of them useful, others not so much.

The day of unmanned aircraft is already here, and autonomous automobiles and trucks are not too far away. The safety benefits of removing or minimizing the human element and replacing it with technology will far outweigh the disadvantages. The biggest obstacles will be in dealing with the fears and concerns that humans have in letting technology have control of the vehicles. Not only will vehicles become smarter, but the road and infrastructure must also evolve to become more intelligent, making the entire system more reliable and efficient. It is going to take many years to build out the infrastructure but the end product is sure to improve efficiency and safety by removing much of the human factors that lead to accidents.

These tests are important to our industry because many VITA technology suppliers target the UAS industry. VPX is especially suited to these systems – either airborne or ground-based systems. The tests that Rockwell Collins and NASA are conducting will help to open the market for many more platforms outside of the typical military applications. VPX is well-positioned to capture a number of new design wins as the market applications grow. Small form factor (SFF) VPX has opportunity in larger rugged vehicles as well as in the infrastructure for the intelligent highway where rugged SFFs are needed.

I expect to see more news on this from Iowa in the not-too-distant future when John Deere eventually announces a line of autonomous tractors. They have early technology in the fields now so I will keep my eye open for my first UTS – Unmanned Tractor System!

Jerry Gipper,