Navy Drone Take Important Step Towards Autonomous Operations

Triton

The Navy plans to put its new MQ-4C Triton long-range patrol drone into service sometime next year. The drone is based off the same design as the Global Hawk, but new software upgrades give it the ability for enhanced autonomous operations.

The Triton will come with a Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) which will allow its operator to identify and avoid other aircraft independent of any other air traffic control data. The new software upgrade will also allow a single drone operator to control multiple drones at the same time.

The Navy has successfully tested the new software and while it does not make Triton drones completely autonomous, it’s an important step towards fully autonomous flight. Given criticisms of its drone programs the various military branches are taking a cautions approach towards introducing autonomous operational ability for their drone fleets.

Given a robust TCAS, it’s possible that the Triton drone will be allowed to operate in same airspace as civil aircraft traffic—something the Global Hawk cannot do. Whether for civil or military application, the end game for TCAS, or sense and avoid systems like it, is for drones to operate by themselves. So keep an eye out for further software upgrades for the Triton if you are interested in how the military is moving forward with this technology.

Global Hawk Turns 15

global_hawk

Northrop Grumman celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of its Global Hawk UAV supporting US military actions in late November.

The long range Global Hawk is still one of the most advanced UAVs in operation and has contributed greatly to the advancement of drone technology. The Global Hawk has logged over 200,000 operation hours for the US military—with nearly half of those coming in the last three years—showing the growing importance of UAV operations for the American military.

According to Northrup Grumman here are some of the highlights of the Global Hawk’s service:

2001: Global Hawk first deployed, while still officially in testing.

2003: Becomes 1st UAV to be authorized to fly in national US airspace.

2007: Becomes 1st autonomous aircraft to support fighting wildfires in Southern California.

2010: Global Hawk is the first to survey damage, following devastating earthquake in Haiti.

2011: Provides critical monitoring of Japanese infrastructure, following earthquake and tsunami.

2016: Global Hawk is used to monitor tropical storms and hurricanes.