Autonomous Systems and Robotics research centre
Uninhabited Autonomous Systems/Air Vehicles (UAS/UAV)
An uninhabited autonomous system (UAS) must cope with unscripted procedures when conducting a mission where commands are issued at high levels of abstraction. It has to be designed around human-centric needs with the ability to perform tasks in accordance with instructions which lack adequate 'terms of reference'. These instructions can vary according to the needs of the mission such as 'search this area', 'report all detected anomalies' and 'find suitable targets'. Many aspects of the common and necessary but difficult operational issues need to be 'handed over' to automated procedures, thereby reducing the risk of failures. More Uninhabited Air Vehicles (UAVs) have been lost to landing accidents than in-flight technical failures and enemy action put together.
Since UAVs have led the development of UAS systems, they form ideal cases to illustrate the concepts. One of the key features of a relatively low cost aerodynamic based UAV system centres around the capability to deploy and re-acquire the vehicle without the need for a long runway. Hence this type of UAV tends to be ramp launched and parachute recovered. The control architecture is bespoked around a user's requirements rather than being aimed at the majority of likely customers. This significantly de-skills the control task and provides an intuitive interface for use by the operator groups such as military commanders.
The need to establish a strong partnership and team working between the autonomous systems and the humans-in-the-loop must be emphasised no matter how deep the degree of autonomy is. Each stage of the development must be accompanied by detailed risk analysis and the ability to recover from system failures. Since the vast majority of mission will be conducted beyond the line of sight (BLOS), the importance of 'cockpit control' requiring human authorisation for weapon release during lethal missions is of the essence, especially when the system is being deliberately jammed by hostile forces.
Knowledge is needed for reasoning and to make decisions but autonomy does not necessarily need artificial intelligence (AI). The barriers associated with operational realism are highly complex; sensor fit and their performance, tactical behavioural, legality & safety doctrine, safety and/or mission criticality issues and changing mission requirements needing a high level of flexibility.
Salford's Autonomous Systems & Robotics Research Centre holds the leading role in Autonomous mission planning and management, task allocation, hybrid optimisation, and intelligent decision making in the GAMMA Programme (Growing Autonomous Mission Management Applications).
Lead Partners in this programme include North West Aerospace Alliance (NWAA) and BAE Systems, together with the Universities of Salford, Manchester, Lancaster, Liverpool, UCLAN, Liverpool (including the Virtual Engineering Centre), and National Nuclear Laboratories.
GAMMA is a three year £9.1 million Autonomous Systems programme aimed at driving SME engagement and developing technology within the emerging autonomous systems markets. GAMMA technology areas of interest include data management, image processing, sensing and communication and mission planning and management.
Several projects have also been undertaken in the area of Aeronautical Engineering, scoped either by academic staff at the University or by the companies within the aerospace industry such as Thales, Rolls Royce BAE Systems,Airbus UK Brougton.
Projects have included:
- Investigate the feasibility of the "one way assembly" process and design a suitable clamping fixture, together with the appropriate manufacturing instructions;
- Joint relaxation and slave bolt design;
- Gap analysis on wing assemblies;
- Automation system for management of a natural gas tank;
- Temporary sealing of wing ribs for leak testing purposes.