Navy tests autonomous drone as target for laser weapon testing

The U.S. Navy Surface War Center announced a test in which an autonomous drone was launched and landed on a moving ship as a target for laser weapons.

The tests, held last week at the NSWC Division at Port Hueneme, Calif., involved software made for the Navy by Planck Aerosystems Inc. that allow the drone to follow the ship without people controlling it, the Navy said.

The four-rotor drone, called a quadcopter, took off, hovered and flew alongside a ship, and then landed on stationary and moving ships.

The 50-pound drone, with a rotor span of about four feet, will eventually carry performance-measuring electronics test the Navy’s Laser Weapon System Demonstrator, currently installed on the amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland.

The drone uses autonomous navigation software designed so unmanned aerial vehicles can correctly maneuver and operate independently of ships and other moving platforms.

“We’re here to find some bugs so we can determine if the drone and the software are ready for USS Portland,” Alan Jaeger, Port Hueneme Division research and technology director, said in a press release.

The drone successfully completed its pre-planned routes, without the involvement of available manual controls, and landed on designated locations despite a high wind.

It “met objectives but needs some refining,” Jaeger said after the tests.

The drone’s next step involves plan development for an actual test involving the USS Portland at Naval Air Station Point Mugu in California.

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