A Lockheed Martin-led industry team has been contracted by the US Office of Naval Research (ONR) to develop advanced autonomous technologies to support an unmanned vertical take-off and landing aircraft.
Under the $13.5m contract, Lockheed Martin's team will work on technology to enable a human operator to intervene and control the unmanned aircraft system for high-level operations, while leaving less important missions to be carried out autonomously.
During the first 18-months of the five-year contract, Lockheed's team will be testing open-architecture planning and trajectory intelligence for managing unmanned systems (OPTIMUS) architecture capabilities.
The platform-agnostic OPTIMUS has been designed based on the company's previous experience gained in unmanned K-MAX cargo resupply programme, as well as its expertise in sensing, autonomy and human-machine interaction.
Lockheed Martin's Mission Systems and Sensors business Airborne Systems director Roger Il Grande said: "This contract provides our team the opportunity to demonstrate how far we can expand the technology envelope."
"Some of our cutting-edge technology has already been demonstrated on K-MAX for the army's Autonomous Technologies for Unmanned Air System programme, and is now deployed with the Marine Corps on the aircraft in Afghanistan."
Capable of enhancing the utility and effectiveness of current unmanned vertical take-off and landing aircraft, the new technology will also assist pilots with supplemental decision on legacy manned platforms.
Lockheed's team for the recently awarded contract comprises of industry, government, and academic partners.
The K-MAX drone, built by Lockheed and Kaman Aerospace, has been designed to perform autonomous or remote-controlled cargo delivery in harsh environments such as Afghanistan.