The Bayonet

Wednesday, Mar. 12, 2014

West Point cadets visit post as part of project

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Two U.S. Military Academy senior cadets visited Fort Benning last week as part of a capstone project in which they are developing alternative controllers for unmanned aerial systems.

Cadets Matthew Strack and John Delano are two members of a four-cadet team that also includes Cadets Jasmine Morgan and Asika Isoh. Strack and Delano were here to view a weapons demonstration and brief Lt. Col. Nick Kioutas, the product manager for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Program Executive Office Aviation, Redstone Arsenal, Ala., on the progress of their project.

The team is working on a project to reduce the cognitive load on UAS operators. Current UAS controllers require operators to divert their attention to handheld or laptop computer screens.

“The main problem that we were trying to sort through is that currently, you’ve got two operators who constantly have their heads down, and they’re not really situationally aware,” Delano said. “We’re trying to come up with an alternative that will allow these operators to be more engaged in the squad mission. A key component of that is reducing it down to one operator. Currently, for the control station it’s a laptop and a hand controller. We’re trying to reduce that down, so one of our alternatives is a tablet that you could have one operator use instead of two. This way, it’s less of a burden on the squad. They wouldn’t have to pull additional security.”

Strack said the team is developing alternatives using technologies such as Google Glass, a display that is viewed through a pair of glasses, and gesture gloves.

“In Google Glass, they can see a video overlay with the feed from the UAV,” Strack said. “This way, you can see what’s in front of you as well as what the UAV is seeing. With the gesture glove, you can control the UAV glove with motions.”

During the cadets’ visit to Fort Benning, they briefed Kioutas on the team’s progress and their eventual goals. Michael Kwinn, a professor of systems engineering at West Point, said that briefing was key to ensuring the project has a real-world feel.

“This is a large project that’s a year long and really brings together all of the work they’ve done academically into a real-life project with real stakeholders,” he said. “We’ve worked with the program manager for a number of years. We try to find clients throughout the Army in order to give cadets different experiences. Fortunately, we have a good relationship with the product manager for SUAS, so it works out pretty well for us.”

All of the team’s alternatives are still in the development phase, with individual components being tested as the team acquires them. Throughout that testing process, Delano said the team has collected a wide range of feedback to help guide the project.

“The feedback has been pretty diverse,” he said. “We’ve looked at every perspective, from the operators to the commanders to the engineers. We’ve taken all of that, and that research has allowed us to address what we feel are the fundamental issues and attempt to correct them in our new alternatives. … We really had to figure out which direction we wanted to go at first. There’s a thousand different issues, and it’s tough to figure out which path to take.”

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