Leaving stabilization of the helicopter to an automatic control system, the pilot issued high-level commands – go higher, move sideways and turn, go slightly lower. Although the feat appeared simple, Associate Professor Eric Feron, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Vladislav Gavrilets, chief engineer for the helicopter project, demonstrated a complex maneuver never before performed autonomously by a helicopter.
The robotic helicopter, outfitted with a video camera so it can take a bird's-eye view of the Institute, rolled 180 degrees, flew upside-down for an instant, and then completed a half-loop to end up flying upright in the opposite direction. This maneuver, called a split-S, allows an aircraft to reverse direction quickly in a horizontally confined space. It is one of a variety of aggressive, agile maneuvers that the next generation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be expected to perform in military combat. Previously, such stunts required the skill of an elite pilot. The technology developed by the MIT team makes it possible for anyone to operate an aerobatic craft.
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