The Flight Control Group in the Army/NASA Rotorcraft Division at the NASA Ames
Research Center is conducting a project called PALACE for the U.S. Army on autonomous navigation of small, unmanned helicopters. This project includes obstacle detection, path planning, and safe landing. It uses a Yamaha R-MAX helicopter as the testbed aircraft. In a past collaboration with NASA/Ames Research Center, the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) provided stereo vision software to this project for obstacle detection and monocular feature tracking software for landing site tracking. The project is now completing a phase in which most testing was in simulation and entering a phase that will involve substantial flight testing. The software provided by JPL requires some support for the flight testing, including potential requirements for extending its functionality. The capabilities being developed by the PALACE project and the JPL vision software are highly synergistic with NASA objectives for advanced safe and precision landing Mars and other bodies, as well as close proximity navigation around comets and asteroids. Thus, ongoing JPL support to this project has substantial potential benefit to future NASA missions.
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