Cooperative Autonomy for the Masses - Fundamental Steps Toward Enabling Complex Multi-Asset Missions with Simple Point-and-Click Tasking
Armed forces today are discovering that switching from manned to unmanned assets frequently increases man-power requirements, while making some tasks more difficult. This is due in part to extensive type-specific training, personnel required to operate each asset, and the inherent challenge of executing tightly-coupled tasks with multiple operators. In this study, the goal is to allow the operator (the mission commander or end-user of the data), located anywhere on an extended tactical network, to define and initiate complicated missions involving multiple assets with heterogeneous sensors, without needing specific knowledge of each asset utilized. To facilitate this, assets must communicate using common channels and protocols, and must be aware of their own constraints and capabilities. All real-time control must be handled by the asset, removing latency issues and allowing cooperation to be handled machine-to-machine. Since assets plan their own routes, sensor constraints become part of the optimization strategy. The mission planner must be able to specify complicated missions through simple, intuitive instructions, like the scribble of a mouse on a digital map to define the sensor-path-of-interest. Finally, sensor data, the real product from the assets, should be available to the mission planner as well as other users on the network. Such a system has been developed and tested in a series of experiments. A sensor-path-of-interest is defined by simple mouse clicks in Google Earth. The path is sent to two unmanned air vehicles with different sensors; each calculates a suitable flight path taking into account its specific sensor. As both aircraft autonomously navigate along the sensor-track, they automatically steer the sensors to ensure a common point-of-interest at all times. Both sensor feeds are available to end-user(s) over the same channel used to initiate the task. The conventional ground control station is only used for launch and recovery.