(Reuters) – The helicopter kicked up a cloud of freshly fallen snow that partly obscured the ground below, but despite the poor visibility, it gently touched down in a landing that was unremarkable except for the fact no one was at the controls.
The helicopter, filmed during testing by the Naval Research Laboratory, was piloted by a 100-pound (45-kg) sensor and software package that officials said can turn any rotary-winged aircraft into a virtually autonomous drone able to fly with minimal input from the Marine Corps troops it was designed to serve.
Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval Research, said the sensor and software pack is “truly leap-ahead technology” that will let a Marine with no flight experience issue landing instructions to a cargo helicopter via tablet computer after just a few minutes of training.
Klunder, who will preview the technology for industry and military leaders at a conference in Washington on Tuesday, said the aim of the project was to give troops a simple tool for battlefield resupply, reducing the casualties inherent in using ground convoys to deliver food, water and weapons.
An Army study of data from 2003 to 2007 showed that one person was killed or wounded for every 24 fuel resupply convoys in Afghanistan and one was killed or wounded for every 29 water resupply convoys.
Marines have used another unmanned cargo helicopter system, K-MAX, to shift millions of pounds of food, water and other gear in Afghanistan. But officials said K-MAX requires detailed planning, preparation of the landing site and a highly trained operator who controls the flight from beginning to end…