October 16, 2008 European researchers are developing a squadron of co-operating, unmanned helicopters for use in disaster management, civil security, and filmmaking. In addition to ferrying critical supplies, the helicopters can deploy sensor nodes to gather information and establish a communications network in places where the infrastructure is damaged or absent.
The EU-funded AWARE project, (Platform for Autonomous self-deploying and operation of Wireless sensor-actuator networks cooperating with AeRial objEcts), aims to develop the architecture and middleware required for the autonomous choppers, as well as the ground sensor-actuator wireless network. The helicopters automatically calculate where gaps are in the communications network, and deploy sensor nodes accordingly. They can also transmit live photographs, creating a detailed representation of the situation on the ground.
To imagine what the helicopters would be like in action, picture a fire. After detecting the fire, the choppers would monitor it, providing footage from different angles to a control room on the ground. The deployed sensors would provide information on temperature and humidity, and track the fire fighters.
The project passed a world-first milestone when three of the unmanned helicopters worked together to carry a load too heavy for a single vehicle.
“It is very difficult to coordinate the helicopters, so this was a very ambitious objective of the project,” says project coordinator Professor Anibal Ollero.
“The first trial was in March 2007, and the feedback from this allowed us to complete the system design. Then in April 2008, we had another field trial which allowed partial integration of the various sub-systems in the field. A final, fully integrated demonstration will be held in the spring of 2009, just before the project ends.”