The U.S. Army has funded a new research study lead by the University of Illinois looking into autonomous drone charging systems for ground-based vehicles. The drones will be able to locate the nearest vehicle with a charging pad and autonomously land on it.

The University of Illinois in Chicago has signed an $8 million agreement with the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory that will see them researching autonomous charging tech over the next four years.

The research program will allow small battery-powered drones to find their way back autonomously to a vehicle with the charging station on it. Once the drone is charged it can then get back in the air and continue on its mission.

This will allow drones to not be as reliant on users to replace batteries or manually charge the drone and means the drones can continue operating even if soldiers are busy with something else. To ensure the drones can do this efficiently, they will dynamically select the best route to take back to the charging station using algorithms developed by the University of Illinois.

In the future, research will begin looking at larger drones that use other fuel sources, including petrol. The research team will be required to develop a fuel level sensor that will allow it to return to base before it runs out. Once this is done, it means all drones used by the U.S. Army can be retrofitted with the tech for them to autonomously re-charge or fill its tank.

Army Research Laboratory Versatile Tactical Power and Propulsion Essential Research Program manager Dr. Mike Kweon said:

“I believe this is the only way to realize practical UAS swarming, and small UAS and UGV teaming. Without solving how to handle the energy demand, all other advanced technologies using artificial intelligence and machine learning will be useless for the army. On the battlefield, we do not have the luxury to replace batteries for hundreds of UAVs and recharging them for hours.”

Photo: University of Illinois Chicago

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