Unmanned heli-rescues

Marc Sanchez Aug 6, 2012

You know how the opening credits to M*A*S*H start with helicopters off in the distance flying towards the 4077? Those copters just came back from extremely dangerous rescue missions picking up wounded soldiers from the field. The Army wants to make those missions a little less dangerous by using vertical take off and landing drones (VTOLs) for those missions.
The Army is soliciting bids to build a new line of medi-copters, one of which, the Karman K-MAX, is already being used by Marines in Afghanistan to shuttle supplies. Not only could these VTOLs put fewer lives at risk, but more soldiers could become pilots. Wired reports:

… a Navy team led by MIT professor Missy Cummings is working on new, iPad-style controls for K-MAX and other robo-copters that could allow  any minimally trained trooper to guide an unmanned vehicle to a safe touch-down in a hot landing zone. Cummings says the new control system is specifically meant to enable robotic medical evacuation. “Your buddy took a bullet to the chest and no manned helicopter is crazy enough to land,” is how she describes the scenario.

The article goes on to point out that one of the biggest hurdles for the project isn’t in building VOTLs, it’s how to get wounded soldiers to trust them. Imagine lying injured on the battlefield, scared and semi-conscious, when all the sudden some weird transport robot buzzes right over you and tries to pick you up like you were a prize in a mechanical claw arcade game. Now, I’m probably exaggerating a little bit here, but the company who can figure out how to put a human face on the project might be the one  who’s chosen to build these things.

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