A new research agreement between ride-sharing company Uber and the United States Army may result in quieter unmanned aircraft for the future force.
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory has aeronautical engineers and scientists working to solve some of the toughest technology challenges in delivering the rotorcraft of tomorrow.
During a technical summit in Los Angeles, May 8, Uber announced its Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the Army to advance technologies supporting Future Vertical Lift.
“The research that we will collaborate with Uber to do will actually deliver unprecedented capability for quieter rotor systems in a unique configuration,” said Dr. Jaret Riddick, director of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Vehicle Technology Directorate.
This objective aligns with the Army chief of staff’s modernization priorities.
“One of those priorities is for Future Vertical Lift,” Riddick said. “The emphasis within Future Vertical Lift is toward future rotorcraft or helicopters, but also a future fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, commonly known as drones.”
Army officials said their work on the future fleet of unmanned aerial systems will include the ability to give the Soldier of the future silent operations. The Army is also looking to UAVs that don’t need a runway and carry greater payloads. All of which would mutually benefit the military and commercial aviation.
“We have extensive experience in rotorcraft aero-mechanics,” said Dr. Rajneesh Singh, a team leader in the ARL’s Vehicle Technology Directorate. “By definition this is a very multi-disciplinary field. It requires expertise in different technical areas and we have such a group.”
Uber engineers met the Army researchers at a conference in 2017 and soon after discussions began about a potential collaboration.
“ARL is one of the nation’s premier rotorcraft research centers,” said Rob McDonald, head of Uber’s Vehicle Engineer Team. “Together we’ll be working on stacked co-rotating rotor development.”
This concept would see two rotor systems placed on top of each other and rotating in the same direction.
“I’m really confident because we have willing partners on either side,” Riddick said. “Uber, with their objective for urban transportation, the air-taxi, as they call it and the Army with its objective of silent operations as a capability for the future unmanned aerial vehicle fleet for the Soldier.”
The laboratory aggressively seeks out public-private partnerships with academia and industry to reach its research goals.
“It’s about collaborations focused on Army-specific challenges of mutual benefit to all of our partners,” said ARL Director Dr. Philip Perconti. “We’re really serious about this.”
Building an ecosystem with industry and academia will allow for sharing resources resulting in science and technology solutions for Soldiers, he said.
“Our core expertise in rotorcraft aero-mechanics, the knowledge and proficiency in computational tools, along with the infrastructure that ARL has in terms of computational hardware and resources can be used to solve universal challenges related to vertical flight vehicles,” Singh said.
Those challenges include making unmanned aircraft systems fly longer, faster and carry higher payloads.
“I’m very excited for the partnership because it really starts to get to the strategy of having industry engagement around cutting edge research, that may be in its early stages but will allow us move this into an industrial ecosystem where it can make its way to the Soldier,” Riddick said.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense