The United States Army has issued a solicitation asking interested parties to “… investigate, propose and demonstrate prototype technical solutions addressing key elements of autonomous vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for medical missions such as critical item resupply and casualty evacuation.” In short, they want an autonomous transport system that can enter ‘hot’ zones to rescue the wounded without putting human pilots at risk.
The US Army isn’t looking for a working prototype right off the bat however, they are more interesting in planning documents and a shortlist of existing vehicles that could be converted into the type of robotic aircraft they require for the program. Later stages will include the development and demonstration of the technology.
“Fielding this capability will speed and enhance the evacuation and subsequent treatment of casualties, both in a military and civilian environment. ”
There are several candidate VTOLs that the Army has suggested for the role of automated wounded troop transportation, including the Sikorsky Blackhawk and the Boeing A-160 Hummingbird. Work is also being conducted on the Kaman K-Max by MIT professor Missy Cummings and her team which would allow troops to remotely fly the chopper with minimal training.
The largest obstacle, apparently, is getting soldiers past the fear of getting into an unmanned vehicle. It is a lot harder to trust the pilot when he or she isn’t in the cockpit. But, should robotic evacuation units become commonplace, the US Army’s project would wind up saving a whole lot of lives.