Drones with Brains: NASA’s Autonomous Helicopters Achieve 12 Flawless Flights
Forget what you know about helicopters. NASA is reinventing air travel with autonomous software that lets choppers fly themselves!
I’m talking no pilot needed. These babies took off, cruised around obstacles, and landed – all on their own. It’s a huge milestone towards a future with air taxis zipping people across cities sans drivers.
Picture the scene: Long Island Sound on a cold gray day. Two helicopters dance through the clouds – a sleek blue-and-white Sikorsky S-76B and a bulkier military-style Black Hawk. Inside, pilots and NASA researchers along for the ride monitor special tablets running the autonomous systems.
Over 30 hours and 70 maneuvers later, the drones successfully completed 12 flights without a hitch! High-fives all around.
So how’d they pull it off? NASA equipped the helicopters with 5 custom navigation programs fused into the existing on-board computers. Together, the software plots routes around obstacles and ensures the chopper sticks to the path.
The autonomous tech even lets the helicopters avoid simulated aircraft integrated right into the same airspace! Wild right? It’s like a video game blended with real life.
And get this – the pilots could grab the controls or correct the course at any time if needed. Pretty cool way for humans and intelligent programs to interact.
The team wore specially designed glasses to study that relationship during flight. Understanding how pilots use the systems is key for designing better interfaces in the future.
So what does all this mean? Well NASA’s collaboration with Sikorsky and DARPA just accelerated the development of self-flying taxis, delivery drones using similar software, and other futuristic tech. No wonder the FAA is excited to take these autonomous helicopters to the next level!