A flying ambulance that can fly itself into high dangerous areas has successfully completed its first ever autonomous flight.
Dubbed the Cormorant, this vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft is capable of carrying 1,000 pounds over 31 miles, allowing it to deliver supplies to war zones and carry wounded soldiers to safety.
The craft is also designed to make ‘split decisions’ if issues should occur during a mission – it either continues its journey, retreats home or lands for further instructions from a human operator.
The prototype has taken two years to complete, but its creators are hopeful that it will be able to reach places traditional helicopters can’t in the near future.
The Cormorant was developed by the Israeli firm Tactical Robotics, a subsidiary of the ‘Fancraft’ technology pioneer Urban Aeronautics, who has conducted more than 200 flights with this military machine.
Its sole purpose is to transport troops, civilian passengers or supplies within tight quarters where helicopters are unable to travel.
This test flight, which was carried out on November 3, was the first time the Cormorant took to the skies over uneven terrain while piloting itself.
Urban Aeronautics’ demonstration brings this technology one-step closer to assisting soldiers in search and rescue missions, as it is able to access dangerous war zones that are unsafe for humans.
‘This flight paves the way forward for the immediate evolution of Cormorant from prototype to near-term production and ultimately commercialization of this groundbreaking technology – for broad applications and markets, said Urban Aeronautics founder Rafi Yoeli.
‘This is the most exciting time in the Company’s history and we look forward to accelerating our progress now that the technology is fully proven.’
Engineers designed the craft with a Flight Management System (FMS), which lets it to make ‘split second decisions’ if any of its sensors detect a problem during a mission.
The craft will then make the judgment call on its own – it decides between continuing the journey, retreating home or making an immediate landing to wait for further instructions from a human operator.
‘The challenge in designing and testing an FMS for a configuration that is has never been addressed by standard flight control algorithms, is analogous to a novice pilot attempting to fly for the first time with an understanding of basic aerodynamic principles but no instructor,’ explained Urban Aeronautics.
During the test flight, Cormorant’s FMS corrected itself in response to unexpected events.
Two instances were related to height above ground over the field (resulting from inaccuracies in laser beam return over uneven terrain and ground conditions).
The third event occurred over the tarmac, which was caused by ‘poor judgment’ on the part of the Flight Control System (FCS), causing the aircraft to descend too early in its landing approach.
Instead of using traditional propellers, the Cormorant is designed with duct fans that keep the rotors enclosed in a protective shield in case the vehicle hits a wall or any other object in its path, reports LiveScience.
These duct fans enable it to to take-off and land horizontally, and it also has vertical movement that is controlled by internal rotors, which can only be seen from directly above or below.
However, Urban Aeronautics reveals that the team is working on obstacle avoidance sensors that will keep the vehicle away from oncoming objects, which they hope to add to the vehicle in the near future.
The Cormorant has enough strength to carry 1,000 pounds per 30 miles, which means it can hull about 13,000 pounds in a full day.
The craft flies itself using an array of laser altimeters, radars and sensors, and it is capable of reaching speeds of 100 knots (115 mph) and operate at altitudes of up to 18,000 feet.
It weighs about one-ton and can be operated with a specially made remote control or by using its own autonomous control system.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/