Traditionally, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) design was focused on airframe and propulsion system integration. UAV ground control systems were often thought of as a tool for flight-testing, sometimes after-the-fact. The vehicle-focused design has contributed to a lack of standardization and cooperation between proprietary vehicles and ground systems.
However, since the 1990s, Lockheed Martin has been developing software to address this issue.
According to the company, Lockheed Martin software has been simultaneously flying, on average, at least six UAVs during every hour of the last 25 years (this includes propeller driven aircraft, jet target drones, helicopters, airships, hybrid aircraft, boats, and quadcopters). These flights and missions continue to range the gamut of intelligence gathering, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance.
In a recent statement, Lockheed Martin announced the launch of VCSi, the newest iteration of its vehicle control software (VCS) family.
VCSi—a commercial software solution that enables simultaneous operation of dozens of UAVs—is the culmination of more than two decades of experience and 1.5 million hours of operational use. Its intent is to enable UAVs to conduct information, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions and enable the control of multiple dissimilar vehicles anywhere on the planet.
To date, the VCS software family has controlled 40 different vehicles from different manufacturers.
“VCSi is a safe and reliable software platform that can be adapted to any vehicle – from one you can hold in your hand, to a 50,000-pound machine; from a vehicle that flies for a few minutes, to a vehicle that flies for months at a time,” said John Molberg, Business Development Manager, Lockheed Martin CDL Systems. “The user can integrate as many vehicles as required to complete their missions, including boats, quadcopters, fixed-wing aircraft, or even high-altitude pseudo satellites. Across commercial or military missions, VCSi is adaptable to the challenge and further extends the power of the human-machine team.”
Lockheed has continued to develop its operator interface, a “fly-by-mouse” system, to reduce training time and task loads. The software outputs real-time data, 3D visualizations, and operational notifications of vehicles and airspace to a laptop screen or multi-monitor workstation. This includes Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) information, National Weather Service data, and consolidated international Digital Aeronautical Flight Information Files (DAFIF).
VCSi is designed around NATO Standardization Agreement 4586 (STANAG 4586), which was conceived to enable unmanned control systems (UCS) and UAV interoperability. STANAG 4586 defines architectures, interfaces, communication protocols, data elements, and message formats.
Lockheed’s VCSi leverages a modular, plug-in architecture and a developer-friendly application programming interface (API). This lets users purchase individual modules for a given mission set while leaving the software open for customization.
One of these modules includes a camera control module, which features augmented reality combing video feed and 3D mapping. It connects VCSi to a STANAG 4586 compatible electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor. It can build 3D maps in real-time, without an internet connection, and present the operator with a level of instantaneous situational awareness.
An additional airspace awareness module can overlay video from the UAV nose camera and provide look ahead notifications for airspace and terrain collisions.
Open customization is a key driver of the technology and each license includes a Software Development Kit (SDK) for step-by-step plug-in development. Lockheed also offers in-house contracted plug-in development.
Lockheed is debuting VCSi during the Unmanned Systems Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi this month.Continue reading »