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ISC Helps DARPA's OFFSET Program Take Flight

One of the highlights of working in APL’s Intelligent Systems Center (ISC) is when engineers get an opportunity to take their research out of the lab and test it in the real world. This is exactly what happened when our fixed-wing UAV team validated their state-of-the-art control algorithms at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State as part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program.

This specific test was an effort to answer the team’s central research question: could fixed-wing UAVs have quadcopter UAV agility and mobility but add greater range, endurance and speed, given that they were fixed-wing in form? “Our goal was to control the vehicle at high speeds in an urban, outdoor environment and do multiple passes around the target building without hitting it,” explains the team’s lead, Joseph Moore.

The team spent nearly a year working with virtual aircrafts in a virtual world and then physical aircrafts in a virtually constructed environment. They did all that on APL’s campus, in the ISC, but until they trekked to Washington, they hadn’t tested it in the physical world. The vehicle’s performance in the virtual world was good. The validation performance in the physical world was exceptional.

“Through this work, we’ve really been able to push the boundary forward for autonomous fixed-wing capability,” said Max Basecu, another major APL contributor to the project. “It’s been very exciting to see our approach continually succeed as we test it with new scenarios and challenges.”

This work was part of APL’s Aerobatic Control and Collaboration for Improved Performance In Tactical Evasion and Reconnaissance (ACCIPITER) project on the overarching DARPA OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program.