"Brain-Based" Control for Unmanned Vehicles
Even the least graceful among us has motor control the most high-tech unmanned undersea vehicle would envy, thanks to a region of the brain that allows our bodies to carry out complex maneuvers. The Office of Naval Research, which traditionally relies on the power of the human mind to achieve breakthroughs in science and technology, now also is harnessing the working principle of the brain to control the maneuvers of UUVs.
This summer at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, RI, a mobile autonomous research vehicle (MARV) fitted with an agile "brain-based" controller will attempt to smoothly and quietly maneuver itself in and out of a docking tube. This tricky feat could be critical to future missions in which UUVs might carry out missions too dangerous for humans.
ONR project sponsor Tom McKenna says that the controller, developed jointly by Russia's Nizhny Novgorod State University and Institute for Applied Sciences and New York University Medical School, mimics the part of the human brain that controls balance and limb movement, known as the olivo-cerebellar system. Engineers at Nizhny Novgorod built the integrated circuits that serve as a model of the agile controller. McKenna explains that it represents a "weakly chaotic system" of neurons coupled in a pattern that enables the controller to emulate the function of the olivo-cerebellar system.
The controller can be used to replicate not only the human body's ability to carry out complex maneuvers but also, for example, the wing control of birds and insects as they adjust their angles of flight. In the case of the MARV, the controller will manipulate the movements of high-lift actuators that change the direction and speed of the vehicle's motion. This capability could be exploited both by autonomous military and commercial systems that require highly precise movement control.