Army, Textron map the future of drone control technology
- By Kris Osborn
- Mar 03, 2017
Textron Systems has built a new drone ground control station that allows operators to control multiple unmanned vehicles on a single display screen and connect platforms across domains.
Synturian drone control technology offers a way to coordinate missions between unmanned surface vehicles, air drones and ground robots simultaneously.
If an aerial reconnaissance drone discovers an enemy target beyond the horizon on the ocean, the aircraft will be able to transmit real-time targeting data to drone attack boats on patrol – shortening the sensor to shooter time and enabling combatant commanders to make faster, more informed decisions.
“Synturian is a platform that will be able to not only operate aircraft simultaneously, but also fly an aircraft and support the navigation of an unmanned surface vehicle --- through multi-domain air and surface missions,” said Wayne Prender, vice president, control and surface systems at Textron Systems.
The Army is now operating and upgrading a Textron-built Universal Ground Control Station, with an eye toward developing new applications.
While Army weapons developers did not wish to comment specifically on Textron’s Synturian offering, they did explain some of the service’s early conceptual requirements for future ground control technology.
Future ground control technologies will “include control of multiple aircraft from a single node, control by a single operator, development and implementation of a UAS Manager role, role-based log-in on future hardware, hardware and software scalability, and increased autonomy,” said Capt. Scott Zimmerman, assistant product director for UGCS, UAS common systems integration directorate.
Early work on requirements for these future capabilities is now underway, Zimmerman added.
Using specially-engineered, scalable software and a high-tech computer interface, Synturian technology aims to change the paradigm regarding drone operations; instead of needing multiple people on the ground controlling a single drone, one person will be able to control multiple drones at the same time as part of coordinated missions.
Prender said drone operators using Synturian navigated two drone “copters” simultaneously to prove the concept. The idea is to facilitate cross-domain collaboration, tipping, cueing and other coordinated activities.
“You can manage your operational space in an air and ground fight or a maritime fight with both air and surface assets,” he added.
Capitalizing upon existing technical progress with “manned-unmanned” teaming technologies is intended to be a fundamental application of Synturian’s emerging technology, Prender explained.
The Army already uses what is called “level of interoperability 3” in combat – a technology which allows Apache attack helicopter crews to control the flight path and sensor payload of nearby drones operating in the air. Developers of Synturian say the new system is engineered with this technology in mind.
“You can relinquish a level of interoperability or level of control, so let’s say to a remote user,” Prender said.
While the Army now operates Shadow and Gray Eagle drones in combat, the Navy is rapidly advancing development of small, semi-autonomous swarming drone boats called Common Unmanned Systems Vehicles (CUSV); these Textron-built vessels are intended to perform surface reconnaissance, hunt mines and submarines and even attack enemy surface ships in coordinated maneuvers.
CUSV semi-autonomous computer algorithms, being advanced by the Office of Naval Research, will ultimately bring the Navy a yet-to-exist “ghost fleet” technology.
“We have focused on the ability for Synturian operators to make smarter, more informed decisions. We have the ability to command and control vehicles with a similar datalink protocol. For example, systems that are Stanag 4586-compliant (drone interoperability interface standards) can be managed at the same time on the same Ground Control Station as other unmanned vehicles,” Prender added.
Kris Osborn is a former editor of Defense Systems.