The United States Army will soon be in control of a swarm of hundreds of drones that can descend on unmanned ground vehicles to recharge on their own.
The success of the project is attributed to army-funded research at the University of Illinois Chicago. The Army Research Laboratory awarded the institute a four-year $8 million cooperative agreement in August to work on the foundational science in two critical propulsion and power technology areas for powering future unmanned aircraft systems (UASs).
The program allows the UASs to return from military missions on their own and hover over unmanned ground vehicles to automatically and autonomously recharge. This reduces the time spent maintaining the vehicles by eliminating the need for soldiers to manually change the batteries, enhancing logistical efficiency.
The university is currently working on algorithms that would enable route planning for several teams of small unmanned air and ground vehicles.
The program manager for the Army Research Laboratory’s Versatile Tactical Power and Propulsion Essential Research Program, Dr. Mike Kweon, said that route planning will be a critical feature for the army. As such, small and intelligent UASs can scout for the best routes during a mission and then return for recharging.
“Without solving how to handle the energy demand, all other advanced technologies using artificial intelligence and machine learning will be useless for the Army,” Kweon explained. “On the battlefield, we do not have the luxury to replace batteries for hundreds of UAVs and recharging them for hours.”
The research project is one of 11 that was funded as a part of efforts to create technologies for hybrid-electric engines that can run on multiple sources of fuel.