Med Response via Vertical Lift

 2015-03-25 12.26.48

Demonstration in unmanned air systems shows integrated coordination from single controller in enabling medical casualty response.

A flight demonstration using a hand-held tablet has shown how unmanned air and ground vehicles can be supervised together by a single operator, and how big and small businesses can work together. The demonstration was conducted recently at Kaman Aerospace in Bloomfield, CT, involving a Lockheed / Kaman CQ-24A K-MAX autonomous helicopter, Neya Systems’ UxInterceptor Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV), all coordinated through Neya’s Mission Management platform.  

During the medical casualty response and resupply scenario, a distress call from a ground unit reporting a casualty led ground operators to send an unmanned ground vehicle to assess the area and injured party. The ground operators, who were using controls stations that communicated with each other using the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Control Segment (UCS) architecture, requested airlift by unmanned K-MAX of one individual who was injured—simulated in the scenario by a mannequin. UCS provides a common basis for acquiring, integrating, and extending the situational awareness and capabilities of the control systems for unmanned systems.

From the ground, the K-MAX operators used a tablet to determine the precise location and a safe landing area to provide assistance to the team. When the UAS arrived at the scene, the two unmanned vehicles were given instructions by a single operator using a Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) Evacuation and Resupply Tactical Interface (VERTI) Medic Interface and UxFleet / Collaborative Mission Planning system from Neya Systems. The injured team member was then strapped into a seat on the side of the unmanned K-MAX, which was then able to fly the casualty to a safe area for treatment.

Today, virtually all unmanned systems have their own unique and proprietary control system, communications and data links. The UCS architecture decomposes capabilities provided by these control systems and data links, independent of the platform. With UCS, legacy systems can be adapted for use with common control stations by opening up their capabilities, and integrating them with open UCS interfaces, making existing systems not only interoperable but readily upgradable. The flight test showed how the UCS Architecture can integrate a handheld GCS with the aircraft and ground vehicle and enable collaborative activities between multiple autonomous platforms.

Neya Systems, a small business located in Wexford, Pa., near Pittsburg, was the prime on the effort, and developed the rapid prototype and demonstration effort leveraging several different small business innovation research (SBIR) grants and follow-on Department of Defense (DoD) funding. The company partnered with the Lockheed Martin and Kaman team to deliver the innovative technology to existing systems.

Neya provided UCS-compliant software, developed through their open and freely available UCS software development kit (SDK), to Lockheed Martin for integration within their K-MAX GCS. This same software was integrated with Neya’s VERTI Android tablet. VERTI supports UCS and Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems (JAUS) interfaces, allowing for simultaneous control of with UCS-compliant UASs and JAUS-compliant UGVs.

Under a variety of SBIR, Navy, and Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (OUSD (AT&L)) funding, “Neya has been developing interoperable technologies for mission planning, human-robot interface, and UGV and UAS control.” said Parag Batavia, PhD, president of Neya Systems, “Our VERTI Android-based handheld controller, which uses the UCS Architecture, makes interfacing with a broad range of platforms and capabilities straightforward.”

Batavia says Neya’s notion of modularity is all about using open architectures and open interfaces, and not considering those interfaces proprietary.

“Integrating open architecture services within the UxInterceptor and K-MAX control stations meant that there was no redesign of the UAS or UGV platform required,” says Batavia. “This allowed for rapid integration and testing.”

The operator conducting the demo had no previous experience controlling the K-MAX and was able to control both the UAS and UGV at the same time after just one hour of familiarization training.

“This collaborative demonstration signifies how using multiple unmanned systems can address critical needs such as medical casualty response and resupply without endangering additional lives,” said Kevin Westfall, director of Unmanned Solutions for Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training. “As technology and autonomy mature, there is significant potential for these systems to be used for humanitarian aid, first response and military applications.”

Optionally piloted helicopter

Lockheed Martin’s K-MAX is an optionally manned helicopter—with both local control (LOCO) and unmanned or non-local control (NOLO) modes—for its unmanned logistics delivery system. . Test flights can be operated in controlled airspace, such as around the Kaman facilities in Bloomfield, close to Bradley Hartford-Springfield International Airport in Windsor Locks, by having a safety pilot onboard when in the NOLO mode.

The aircraft has mechanical controls for the rudder and the servo flaps that control the angle of the rotor blades. There are no hydraulics, and no power boost for the controls. The disadvantage to the design is that the aircraft is relatively slow, with a top speed of 100 knots, but most loads are flown between 40 and 80 knots.

K-MAX has counter-rotating rotors, so all the power goes to lift. With a conventional main rotor / tail rotor configuration, up to a third of the engine’s power can go to the tail rotor, necessary to counter torque and maintain the heading of the aircraft, but since there are no tail rotors, all the power goes to the lifting blades. It can lift its own weight. “It’s a 6,000 lb. aircraft that can lift 6,000 lbs.,” says Jon McMillen, Lockheed Martin’s program manager for the unmanned K-Max aircraft.  

The aircraft burns about 85 gallons an hour, which gives it a mission duration of just under three hours.

It can travel at about 100 knots without a load. A typical load for the unmanned mission is 4,500 lbs.

While deployed with the U.S. Marine Corps from 2011 to 2014, the unmanned K-MAX successfully conducted resupply operations in Afghanistan. “We delivered more than 4.5 million pounds of cargo during more than 1,900 missions in two and a half years,” says McMillen.

The aircraft was designed for the vertical lift mission and is barely wide enough for the single pilot’s seat. Typically, the pilot is looking down at the cargo hook and places the hook into the ground crewman’s hands, thereby necessitating the narrow fuselage. There is limited space inside for cargo and personal gear, and there are FAA-approved side-mounted jump seats for a crewmember to sit on, such as a logger or a firefighter.

Bullish on K-MAX

The unmanned K-MAX was employed successfully in Afghanistan to provide logistics support to remote operating bases. The missions had been conducted by convoys or by larger manned helicopters. “The unmanned K-MAX took a lot of Marines and soldiers off the roads,” Terrance P. Fogarty, director of business development for K-MAX helicopter programs.

Fogarty says the technology and aircraft are an ideal system for firefighting. Presently aircraft are limited by weather or visibility from smoke, and can fight fires only during limited daylight hours. And it’s a grueling job. Lockheed Martin and Kaman are demonstrating how K-MAX can be used to make multiple lifts to drop water or fire retardant on fires around the clock.

The system can be deployed rapidly to provide humanitarian assistance to remote, inaccessible or contaminated areas, especially if roads or airfield have been damaged, and has a relatively small footprint. “It depends on how long we stay, but when we deployed with the US Marine Corps, the entire operation consisting of a Lockheed Martin field team of about a dozen people with aircraft, support equipment and spares were transported with three C-17 lifts,” Fogarty says.

Radio, satellite or Iridium communications can be used as a datalink with the aircraft. The satellite antenna is mounted on top of the aircraft and is able to receive a virtually uninterrupted signal even with the blades rotating above.

It’s a stable helicopter, designed by pilots and maintainers, Fogarty says, and it’s the only aircraft designed, built, tested and certified for repetitive external lift, instead of a passenger carrying aircraft converted to full time repetitive lifts.”

The K-MAX prototype first flew in 1991—35 production model K-MAX helicopters were built, and 22 are still flying, mostly in the forest products and firefighting industries, around the world. Fogarty says although K-MAX is currently not in production, Kaman is recently announced that it will reopen the production line, and has begun accepting deposits. Fogarty says the new aircraft will retain the same proven design. “We’re bullish on the future of K-MAX,” he says.

Unmanned medical response

According to Brian Stancil, director of robotic systems at Neya Systems, the company has a long involvement with medical robotics. “We’ve looked at a lot of small unmanned ground vehicles for locating and getting to the casualty. Assessment and triage are very difficult to do with unmanned systems, so a lot of the work that we’ve done has been to put remote sensors and gain access to casualties in and perform remote telemedicine approaches,” Stancil says. “Once you have located the casualty, the soldier has to be protected. For treatment, we’ve been looking at high-degree-of-freedom manipulators attached to our unmanned ground vehicles to provide some initial and early treatment for problems,” Stancil says. “With extraction, you’re starting to get to the last 80% of the problem.   There are good places and bad places to grab a guy on the ground.   If he’s in the line of fire, you want to get him into a safe position quickly. In other situations, you would want to be a little bit more careful.”

According to Stancil, most control systems have a static functionally laid out user interface (UI). “There are different tabs and sections for the various functional components of the system. With VERTI, we’re creating specific UI views for any task that the soldier needs to do at that time.”

“The testing we did with Lockheed and Kaman has been invaluable. We’ve integrated a lot of UCS services. We’ve tested out a lot of the issues with networking and wireless bandwidth. We’re going to be looking for transition opportunities to do further demonstrations and to share this with to other groups that are working in similar spaces,” Stancil says.

The UCS Architecture helps small businesses and directly supports DoD’s Better Buying Power (BBP) initiatives, because it gives smaller, innovative companies the flexibility and ease of inserting technology into existing systems, while reducing costs at the same time.

UCS architecture

“Open architecture allows us the,” says Rich Ernst, who was the lead for UCS with DoD and is now with the Department of the Navy.

The mission planning and management system provided by Neya not only fits on the K-MAX, but can work with other systems, opening up a much larger market. “It provides that far-reaching innovation for the system, but also lowers the cost of the system going forward,” Ernst says.

While the demo showing the collaboration between autonomous air and ground systems was remarkable, and so is the collaboration between big and small business, Ernst says.

“We standardized the [contract] language so you can procure things in a certain set of ways that is advantageous for however you have invested money into that system,” says Ernst. “Vendors can own everything – but at minimum, the government owns the interfaces (and) the behavior models to that application.”

Even with squeezed budgets, Ernst says the open architecture approach reduces redundancies and inefficiencies, and thus procures more systems for warfighters while at the same time driving up margins for vendors.

Software development kit

“We took what we developed through an Army Phase I SBIR, which was a relatively low-dollar effort, and we integrated that into UCS because we had this SDK, and because we were able to generate this code quickly. It immediately opened up the suite of things that we could integrate our software with,” Ernst says. “The whole point is not to have to re-architect and rewrite all of your code.”

Stancil says the implementation of the interfaces using the UCS software development kit (SDK) was relatively simple. “We opened up the tool kit, picked the interfaces that we want to implement, we auto-generated that code and the interfaces, and rapidly integrated our application logic.”

He says most of the work involved generating the services on the GCS. For the purposes on the demonstration, a lot of the core components of the autonomous services were already available via Lockheed Martin. “All they needed to do was integrate them into our UCS interfaces.”

“Lockheed Martin basically took our UCS interfaces and incorporated the services into their hardware-in-the-loop system integration bench. That’s where we tested for the last month using the exact hardware running on the K-MAX. Then we actually flew this code for the first time,” Stancil says. “I’ve been involved in a lot of robotic integration efforts, and I have never waited until two days before the demonstration to integrate on the hardware that we were to use. So, I would credit Lockheed Martin’s collaborative hardware in the loop simulation laboratory (CHIL SIM) for that. They’ve got a fantastic bench dock set up, and that really helps reduce integration time.”

When a man on the ground wants to supervise the UAS there is a positive hand-off. The tablet requests control from the GCS, and the GCS can grant or veto that request.

The on scene user can update the UAS with instructions as to specifically where it should land, no fly zones, a specific desired approach direction or angle.   The ground control station takes those constraints and generates a detailed flight that is passed back to the tablet so the operator can see what the action might be.

“This application of the unmanned K-MAX enables day or night transport of wounded personnel to safety without endangering additional lives,” said Jay McConville, Lockheed Martin director of business development for Unmanned Solutions. “Since the K-MAX returned from a nearly three-year deployment with the U.S. Marine Corps, we’ve seen benefits of and extended our open system design incorporating the UCS architecture which allows rapid integration of new applications across industry to increase the safety of operations, such as casualty evacuation, where lives are at stake.”

Photo courtesy of Neya Systems