The proposed effort directly responds to the goals cited in the solicitation to develop technologies that provide the ability of UAS to extract information in-flight and utilize this information in decision making. This SBIR effort also directly supports current NASA/industry initiatives to establish airworthiness standards for FAA-certification that will provide a roadmap for future implementation of UAS in commercial applications within the U.S. Specifically, this SBIR effort dovetails with a NASA/DPI partnership to utilize DPI's unmanned tandem DP-14 Field Hawk helicopter to study civil airworthiness certification for use in the national airspace through demonstration of precision agricultural application, a mission that is particularly suited to UAS given the significant dangers faced by manned aircraft maneuvering at extremely low altitudes. The proposed SBIR effort complements and directly supports this NASA/DPI effort by adding demonstration of a fully-autonomous, flight path management system onboard the UAS tailored toward a specific task, in this case agricultural application. This adds two key elements that must be demonstrated before UAS can be applied in commercial applications within the U.S., addressing both a need for technical advancement related to autonomous control and decision-making as well as a need to develop airworthiness FAA-certification requirements for autonomous aircraft operations.
The DoD is seeing growing use of UAS in surveillance and urban operations where the ability to extract information in-flight and utilize this information in decision-making with minimal human oversight is critical. The number of trained operators of DoD unmanned aircraft systems is currently being vastly outstripped by requirements for operating an ever-increasing fleet of UAS aircraft. UAS operators are currently being forced to work longer and longer shifts with no alleviation in sight. The technology developed during this effort directly supports addressing this need, providing advancements in the ability for autonomous control of UAS platforms that will reduce the level of direct piloting required. Private industry will also benefit greatly from this current effort. First, this SBIR will provide advancements in fully-autonomous, application-specific, UAS platforms. Autonomous control is critical to the eventual expansion of the customer base beyond those with piloting experience to the general public at large. Thus this area of research supports an enormous leap in commercialization potential. Second, the proposed effort also has a component addressing FAA-certification requirements for autonomously-controlled UAS. This is currently a critical barrier to the commercial use of UAS in the U.S.