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Boeing Phantom Ray UCAS Makes First Flight

Boeing’s unmanned fighter jet took to the air for the first time late last month, and Boeing’s got big plans for it

1 min read
Boeing Phantom Ray UCAS Makes First Flight

It was barely two months ago that Northrop Grumman’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) made its first autonomous flight. On April 27, Boeing’s Phantom Ray followed suit on its first flight, maneuvering at 7,500 feet at speeds of over 175 knots. The test flight, which lasted just under 20 minutes, was followed by a perfect autonomous landing.

Obviously, this is just the first little taste of what the Phantom Ray is capable of. Its operational top speed is about 0.85 Mach, with a range of nearly 2,500 km. Further testing will explore the capabilites of the UCAS for “supporting missions that may include intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; suppression of enemy air defenses; electronic attack; hunter/killer; and autonomous aerial refueling.”

It’s worth mentioning that unlike the Northrop Grumman X-47B, the Phantom Ray is entirely Boeing’s project. Northrop Grumman won DARPA’s UCAS program, and the X-47B is being developed specifically for the US Navy. Even though Boeing’s X-45 didn’t get selected, Boeing decided not to just let the X-45 die off, and so they adapted it into the Phantom Ray instead. Just what exactly is going to happen to the program is anyone’s guess; the possibilities range from keeping it as a testbed to turning it into a production prototype that’s ready for deployment. And you know what that would mean... Sometime, somewhere, someone is going to get an X-47B and a Phantom Ray in the same piece of sky and just let them go at it, Top Gun style.

[ Press Release ] via [ Defense Tech ]

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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