For Immediate Release: May 17, 2018
By Sierra Jones, Office of Naval Research
ARLINGTON, Va.— Yesterday, a revolutionary advance in autonomous flight capability was recognized with one of the nation’s top innovation awards.
The Howard Hughes Award—given by the American Helicopter Society—was presented to the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Aurora Flight Sciences for their joint work on the Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System, or AACUS.
AACUS allows any rotary-wing aircraft to fly completely autonomously and enables mission success even in austere environments.
“The team is honored to be recognized for our work,” said Dr. Knox Millsaps, head of ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. “But we’ll know if our work has been a real success if it can keep even one more warfighter safe and out of harm’s way during a resupply mission—that’s our true measure of success.”
AACUS is a package of sensors and software that can be integrated into rotary-wing aircraft to provide safe, reliable and rapid delivery of cargo to Marines in the field using autonomous capabilities. These capabilities include flight, route planning, obstacle avoidance, landing selection—even on unprepared fields—and takeoffs.
Designed for simple use, AACUS employs an intuitive handheld tablet that allows a Marine in the field to call up needed supplies very quickly and easily.
That capability was on display in December 2017 when AACUS successfully completed its final demonstration—featuring a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter—at the Urban Training Center at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. A highlight of the demonstration included a Marine requesting an autonomous resupply after only 15 minutes of training.
“The AACUS technology provides a revolutionary way to re-supply our forces in the field,” said Millsaps. “It could simplify the logistics train for supplying critical warfighting cargo to forward-deployed troops, and do this in a more economical manner without placing human pilots at risk in high-threat environments.”
AACUS has won and been nominated for other high-profile awards as well. In addition to receiving the Howard Hughes Award, the technology was a finalist for the recent National Aeronautic Association’s 2017 Robert J. Collier Trophy.
And earlier this month, the program received the XCELLENCE Award in the category of “Detect and Avoid” from the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International.
AACUS was developed under an ONR Innovative Naval Prototype program in partnership with technology company Aurora Flight Sciences. The program is now with the Marine Corps for further experimentation and development.
Sierra Jones is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications.
About the Office of Naval Research
The Department of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps’ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 55 countries, 634 institutions of higher learning and nonprofit institutions, and more than 960 industry partners. ONR, through its commands, including headquarters, ONR Global and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., employs more than 3,800 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel.