Scientists Conduct Successful First Test Flight of X-SCAV UAV-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Scientists Conduct Successful First Test Flight of X-SCAV UAV

On September 29, 2009, Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley, in collaboration with NASA Ames Research Center, successfully conducted its first series of flight tests of an 20-foot wingspan unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called the eXperimental Sensor Controlled Aerial Vehicle (X-SCAV) at Crows Landing, CA.  The X-SCAV, which can support up to 50kg of payload, is the latest result of ongoing collaboration between the NASA Ames Research Center and the Carnegie Mellon Innovations Laboratory. Carnegie Mellon scientists Ritchie Lee, Yoo-Hsiu Yeh, and Khalid Al-Ali worked with NASA Ames Research Center scientists on the platform for this unique unmanned aerial system designed to carry large payloads for short range deployment.  

The X-SCAV is a small ultra-low-cost unmanned vehicle testbed used for experimental control systems research, development, and experimentation. The XSCAV is unique in its class, providing ample carrying capacity that rivals large UAVs but at a fraction of the cost and complexity. The XSCAV uses the NASA Reflection Architecture, a central component-based plug-and-play software infrastructure.  This successful series of flights paves the way for continued X-SCAV flights at Moffett Airfield, demonstrates the operational status of the platform to support control system research experiments, and demonstrates agile concepts for robust low-cost UAV design.  The X-SCAV is built on a commercial airframe manufactured by Bill Hempel.

“The X-SCAV platform is unique in its size and cost versus carrying capacity.  Very few UAVs at this size and price point can support the amount of payload capacity that this airframe can support.  In support of disaster response such as wildfire response, this aircraft has the advantage of being able to be deployed and retrieved on-site, which obviates the need for complex FAA approvals that hampers large UAV deployments,” explained Corey Ippolito, the Project Lead for the team, and a NASA Ames Scientist who also just started his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon.  

Lee, Yeh and Al-Ali from the Carnegie Mellon Innovations Laboratory (CMIL), worked together on the design and construction of the vehicle.  Ritchie Lee, who served as the Systems Engineering Lead for the team, describes how his research involved converting a remote-controlled (RC) aircraft kit into a UAV.  “Our work focuses on developing flexible software and hardware platforms that optimize the scientific return of a payload sensor by adjusting parameters such as flight path and flight controllers.  The X-SCAV was developed as a testbed for this research and others.  This successful flight test, in remote-control mode, marks the aircraft’s first flight, and is validation of the deiign and implementation of the airframe and avionics.”

CMIL, located at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley, has established itself as one of the world’s leading ground and aerospace technology research centers since its founding in 2003.  CMIL focuses on identifying, researching, testing, and maturing forward-looking ground and aerospace technologies with applications to mobile vehicles. Leveraging its location at the NASA Ames Research Center, CMIL brings together the best and brightest aerospace research professionals from both Carnegie Mellon and NASA to explore new possibilities for micro vehicle platforms, aircraft, spacecraft, and associated technologies.  Dr. Khalid Al-Ali, Director of CMIL, serves as Principal Investigator for this on-going project.  “This collaboration is a clear example of the long list of CMIL successes, where Carnegie Mellon innovation is coupled with NASA resources, producing work with significant impact,” says Al-Ali.