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Autonomous Precision Landing onto Non-Cooperative Targets


OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Integrated Network Systems-of-Systems;Integrated Sensing and Cyber;Trusted AI and Autonomy The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws. OBJECTIVE: Develop a modular system that enables a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft to precisely and repeatedly land on a small non-cooperative target, then take off again. DESCRIPTION: Autonomous landing systems have become common in both manned and unmanned aviation. Uses span from commercial airliners to small drones. Most of these systems are GPS-based, which enables autonomous landing to an approximate location, but lacks the accuracy to enable autonomous landing in a very small or confined space, such as the deck of a boat. To enable high-precision autonomous landing, systems have been developed using additional sensors, including RTK-GPS, radar, acoustic, ultra-wideband (UWB), and vision. However, these precision landing systems require sensors and/or optical targets to be placed on the landing target prior to landing. This prevents their use with “non-cooperative targets (NCTs)”, such as the roof of a building or an enemy vessel, that are not accessible prior to the initial landing. This approach would also have applicability to EMCON conditions on current assets. This SBIR topic seeks to develop a non-cooperative target landing system (NCTLS) to enable VTOL aircraft (manned or unmanned) to autonomously land on and take off from a small area or NCT, without a pilot providing control inputs. The NCTLS should enable the following pilot workflow: 1. The pilot designates an NCT landing site using satellite imagery or data from an aircraft-mounted sensor. 2. The NCTLS tracks the landing site in real time and generates aircraft control inputs to guide the aircraft safely onto the NCT, without any operator input. 3. The pilot may later decide to launch from the NCT; during launch, the NCTLS should track the landing site during takeoff and generate aircraft control inputs to guide the aircraft straight up relative to the NCT. It may be assumed that the general location of the NCT is known, and that the NCT is large enough to accommodate the small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS). Landing accuracy should be less than 50% of the largest aircraft dimension (e.g., landing error for a 1000 mm diameter quadcopter drone should be less than 500 mm). The NCTLS should be modular and adaptable to a range of VTOL aircraft. It is desirable for the NCTLS system to operate with sensor data from pre-existing sensors already on board most aircraft (e.g., GPS, IMU, imagers), however, additional sensors and computers may be added to the aircraft to enable the system. Overall size, weight, and power (SWaP) requirements of the system should be minimized. Control output signals from the NCTLS should be provided in a generalized format such as velocity or acceleration commands. The NCTLS should not interfere with other aircraft subsystems. Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. owned and operated with no foreign influence as defined by DoD 5220.22-M, National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) formerly Defense Security Service (DSS). The selected contractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances. This will allow contractor personnel to perform on advanced phases of this project as set forth by DCSA and NAVAIR in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material IAW DoD 5220.22-M during the advanced phases of this contract. PHASE I: Design and develop technology that enables autonomous landing of a VTOL aircraft on an NCT, as described above. Provide a detailed description of the system architecture and necessary input and output interfaces to integrate into a small drone. Identify key components necessary for operation. Build a prototype NCTLS and demonstrate the prototype operating in a relevant environment, landing on a stationary NCT. Identify limits of operating conditions, such as NCT environmental conditions, weather, aircraft dynamics, and sensor requirements. Develop a Phase II implementation plan. The Phase I effort will include prototype plans to be developed under Phase II. PHASE II: Build, test, and validate a complete NCTLS prototype that successfully lands a VTOL aircraft on a moving NCT such as a vehicle or vessel at sea. Demonstrate the prototype system in relevant operational environments. Demonstrate portability of the system to different VTOL aircraft. Produce and deliver a final technical data package that includes system and subcomponent specifications, interface descriptions and definitions, and operating instructions for the prototype. Prepare for transition to deployment. Work in Phase II may become classified. Please see note in Description section. PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Complete final testing, and perform necessary integration and transition for use in landing/take-off operations with appropriate existing platforms and agencies, and future combat systems under development. Commercially this product could be used to enable remote delivery/pickup of various payloads to unattended locations, surveillance/interdiction operations, and in search and rescue (SAR) operations. REFERENCES: 1. Hintze, J. M. (2004, March 12). Autonomous landing of a rotary unmanned aerial vehicle in a non-cooperative environment using machine vision [Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University]. All Theses and Dissertations (p. 120). Brigham Young University. 2. López-Rodríguez, P., Escot-Bocanegra, D., Fernández-Recio, R., & Bravo, I. (2015). Non-cooperative target recognition by means of singular value decomposition applied to radar high resolution range profiles. Sensors (Basel, Switzerland), 15(1), 422. 3. Xu, G., Qi, X., Zeng, Q., Tian, Y., Guo, R., & Wang, B. (2013). Use of land’s cooperative object to estimate UAV’s pose for autonomous landing. Chinese Journal of Aeronautics, 26(6), 1498-1505. 4. Zhao, Y., & Pei, H. (2012). An improved vision-based algorithm for unmanned aerial vehicles autonomous landing. Physics Procedia, 33, 935-941. 5. Department of Defense. (2006, February 28). DoD 5220.22-M National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (Incorporating Change 2, May 18, 2016). Department of Defense. KEYWORDS: Artificial intelligence/machine learning; AI/ML; surveillance; autonomous landing; non-cooperative; sensors; unmanned systems
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