Textron Systems Unmanned Systems joins research center

By Patrick C. Miller | April 28, 2016

Joining the Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-UAS) is expected to assist Textron Systems Unmanned Systems in its efforts to transition from military operations into commercial operations in the U.S. national airspace.

The UAS arm of Textron Inc. this week announced its participation in C-UAS—the only UAS research organization funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)—which is part of NSF’s Industry/University Cooperative Research Center program.

“When we looked at C-UAS, we saw it as a very good consortium of industry and government agencies and academia pushing for research in all the right areas,” said Gregg Shimp, Textron Systems vice president of engineering.

Founded in 2012, C-UAS links the research and development needs of industry with university research capabilities. C-UAS academic institutions are the University of Colorado, the University of Michigan, Brigham Young University, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Through its manned aircraft companies of Cessna, Beechcraft, Hawker and Bell Helicopters, Shimp noted that Textron already had relationships with the research universities participating in C-UAS.

“When you lay out the work they have and the ideas that they were proposing, it really matched with what our needs were,” he said. “That was no surprise because the companies involved are all very close to what we do.”

Government and industry members include NASA, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Air Force and Army research laboratories. Among the industry participants are Northrop Grumman, Insitu, AeroVironment, Facebook and United Technologies.

Textron Systems’ UAS include the Aerosonde small UAS and the Shadow Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (TUAS), which has amassed nearly one million flight hours. The company uses the platforms for military, civil and commercial applications around the world.

“We are excited to have Textron Systems join C-UAS,” said Tim McLain, center director. “We will benefit greatly from their perspectives and experience as we define and work on research problems of critical importance to the UAS industry.”

Textron systems also announced this week that it received a $116.5 million award from the U.S. Army for an additional 24 of its RQ-7B V2 Shadow TUAS upgrades. The U.S. Department of Defense inventory includes 117 Shadow systems, operated by the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command.

Shimp said teaming with C-UAS will assist Textron with the transition from the military world to the civilian world where it plans to fly its UAS in the national airspace for commercial applications.

“As we’re looking at research, we’re looking at a need to do more research into autonomous controls, decision-making capabilities of the vehicle algorithms, multi-vehicle control, alternative navigation capabilities and sense and avoid—those kind of technologies that everybody is looking to push the research ahead in,” he explained.

In addition, Shimp said Textron Systems will conduct research on the end product delivered to its customers.

“What kind of data does the end customer need? How do you provide them with a data product very rapidly that they can use to make decisions?” he asked. “We’re looking at different sensor technologies, how to handle that data, process that data and provide it to the commercial customers in the right way.”

Shimp said conducting UAS research and development with universities provides advantages that industry generally can’t match.

“If you look at what academia brings, they have the ability through their labs and coalitions like this that help fund their work,” he explained. “Industry is usually more focused on how to make immediate developments and changes to our products that we can get out and start delivering to our customers.

“At a low cost, universities can evaluate technology and there’s not a big penalty if it doesn’t work,” he continued. “They can identify what the challenges are, readdress them and come back with a new answer to the problem.”

Shimp said Textron Systems primary role with C-UAS will be as advisors and to provide technical guidance on the key projects, using its experience as a designer, manufacturer, operator, maintainer and trainer for UAS technologies.


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