Middle Tennessee State University has entered into a historic educational partnership with the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps that will study ways robots on the ground can be used in concert with unmanned vehicles in the air.
The pact between the MTSU Unmanned Aircraft Systems program and the two military branches is the first of its kind. It comes one year after MTSU and the Army entered another unique partnership to support MTSU’s educational and research efforts into the Army’s remote-controlled Raven aircraft.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and Lt. Col. Nick Kioutas signed documents today (Aug. 13) that confirmed the three-year cooperative effort with the Robotic Systems Joint Project Office, headquartered in Warren, Mich., with a satellite office at the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Ala. The office jointly is operated by the Army and Marines.
“The rapidly advancing work of our aerospace department is exploring the cutting edge ofunmanned technology and operations,” McPhee said. “This unique partnership will encourage and enhance our studies of this developing technology.”
Military officials at the ceremony displayed examples of its Raven aircraft and its ground robots, best known for its use by soldiers to remotely disarm explosive devices.
Kioutas said the University’s partnership with the Army’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS, program, also based at Redstone, “makes MTSU a natural choice.”
Lt. Col. Robb Walker of the Army’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems program echoed Kioutas’ comments.
“The UAS Project Office enjoys a great relationship with MTSU and we’re excited about this new opportunity for them,” he said.
The new partnership will explore how to add low-cost hardware and software to existing small robots so that Raven aircraft could be used as an eye-in-the-sky relay. Such advances would increase the range and utility of the robots.
Mark Blanks, interim director of MTSU’s UAS program, said the partnership will explore ways for air- and ground-based robotic systems to communicate and work with eachother.
“Imagine a small unmanned aircraft directing a ground robot where to spot-spray agricultural fields for weeds in real time,” Blanks said. “Or imagine an unmanned ground vehicle providing a closer look at an object identified by an aircraft.”
The agreement allows the Robotic Systems Joint Project Office “to loan and transfer research equipment to MTSU.” Additionally, it allows the Army and Marines to assist in the development of courses and materials for MTSU, and involve faculty and students in defense laboratory research projects.
“Our partnership provides us the opportunity to enhance the capabilities of today's soldier and tomorrow's commercial markets," Blanks said.