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今天看到最新一期经济学家杂志刊登了一篇有关无人驾驶直升机应用前景的文章觉得非常有意思,尤其是那些对遥控飞机或无人驾驶飞行技术感兴趣的人士们来说着实很有点儿看头。于是试着将全文翻成中文以便阅读对照之用。由于时间仓促,加之本人水平有限,故错译,漏译之处难免,还望诸位多指教。

 

Autonomous helicopters 全自动直升机

Robocopter arrives 洛克希德·马丁公司和诺斯罗普·格鲁曼公司正在建造这种无人驾驶攻击武装直升机(ROBOCOPTER)时代终于到来

After unmanned drones, pilotless helicopters are taking to the sky to deliver supplies to troops

无人驾驶遥控飞机投入使用后,无人驾驶直升机正飞向蓝天为军队运送物资

Sep 15th 2012 | from the print edition

 

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UNMANNED attack aircraft, such as Predator and Reaper, have become a familiar part of modern warfare. But an army, famously, marches on its stomach, and campaigns can be lost as easily by a lack of supply as by a lack of firepower. That, combined with the increasing squeamishness of rich countries about taking casualties, is leading to the use of a new type of drone in the form of unmanned helicopters to deliver supplies. Pioneered by the armed forces, these hovering robots will also find civilian roles.

诸如“掠夺”和“收获”号无人驾驶战机已经成为与现代战争密切相关的部分。但最浅显的道理就是如果一只军队饿着肚子行军又缺乏必要的军备供给就一定会输掉所有战役。最富有国家在谈论灾难时所表现出那不断增长的惊恐,必然会促使人们去使用新型遥控无人驾驶直升机运输物资。这种能飞行的机器人还是率先有军队使用,随后会在民用上派上用场。

 

Two unmanned helicopters have been flying experimental combat missions delivering goods to American marine outposts in Afghanistan since December 2011. The project has been such a success it has twice been extended and may well run until September 2013. The helicopters in question are modified versions of the K-MAX, built by Kaman, an American aerospace firm. They are used in a number of military roles and in civilian jobs, such as logging and power-line construction, as a sort of airborne sky-crane cum delivery truck.

自从2011年来两架无人飞行的直升机已经试验性地运用在战事中,一直为美国军队前哨运送必要的军用物资。这个项目看来已经取得了成效,也已两度延长期限,估计会到2013年的9月份。问题是所有的直升机都是由一家位于卡曼的美国航天公司制造,型号为K-MAX直升机的改进型。这种直升机主要用在军事和民用方面,如伐木和电力工程项目上,相当于空中起重机运输卡车。

 

Strange bird  就像奇怪的鸟一样

The K-MAX (pictured above) is a “synchropter”, with two sets of intermeshing blades, synchronised so as not to hit each other. It looks ungainly, but it is a robust system. The rotors turn in opposite directions to cancel out torque, the twisting action which requires conventional helicopters to use a tail rotor—a hazardous appendage. The modification for autonomous flight was carried out in a joint venture with Lockheed Martin, a big American defence contractor. By August the two K-MAXs had flown 485 autonomous sorties carrying over 900 tonnes of cargo.

就像上面提到的K-MAX直升机其实是一种叫做 双旋翼交叉式直升机”,其特点是有两组相互交叉套在一起螺旋叶片组成,同步旋转但绝对不会互相碰撞在一起。看起来并不是很漂亮,但这个系统非常结实。同样采用让电机反方向旋转以消减扭矩旋转动力,不过驱动所需动力采用传统尾部电机运转-一种危险的附加动力装置。改造成自动飞行要同美国国防部最大的订货商马丁公司联手。到8月份,两架K-MAX 已自动飞行了485次运送了900吨的货物。

 

The K-MAX was selected because it can carry over 2,700kg, which is more than its unladen weight. Unlike many large fixed-wing drones, which are flown under remote control by ground-based pilots, a modified K-MAX flies autonomously along a programmed course using GPS to navigate via specified way points. It can also be operated by remote control. The craft use a number of sensors, some of which Lockheed Martin is keeping mum about. These give the helicopter an awareness of its surroundings which is precise enough for it to land in total darkness. The American army is interested in adding a sophisticated camera to survey landing sites and spot potential threats. The camera could also help direct a helicopter from the ground and be used in civilian roles, like fire fighting or search and rescue.

之所以选中K-MAX是因为它的载货量为2700公斤,比起其自身无载货重量还要大。不像其它许多大型固定机翼无人机那样是靠地面驾驶员远程遥控操作进行的,而改造后的K-MAX飞机通过设在地面上特定控制点可以按预先设定的程序采用GPS导航飞行,当然也可以远程遥控飞行。这种飞机上采用了很多感应器,有些感应器马丁公司一直守口如瓶,保持沉默不愿意透露。这些感应器可以让直升机了解其周围的情况变化确保足够精确地在全黑夜着陆。美国军队还饶有兴趣地为它加上了精密探头以巡视降落现场和地点可能潜在的危险。探头也可以知道直升机着陆。这种探头技术现在也用在了民用方面,比如:消防,搜索和营救等诸多方面。

 

The army has also suggested fitting some form of self-defence, like a gun which the camera could be used to aim. At present the K-MAX has no defensive systems, but Lockheed Martin says the helicopters could easily be fitted with armour, machine-gun pods or flares which could be fired as decoys to divert ground-launched missiles. But this would eat into its cargo-lifting capacity.

现在军队也已考虑将这种装置用在自我防卫上,如: 把探头装在枪上可以提高瞄准精度。从目前的情况来看,K-MAX没有安装防卫系统,但马丁公司讲这种直升机很容易就可以配备装甲,机枪感应器或干扰地面导弹发射的照明弹等。不过,据说按上这些装置会削弱掉其吞吐能力。

 

The unmanned K-MAX carries its cargo externally on a 25-metre cable. The helicopters are monitored as they fly autonomously to a forward operating base, where a marine controller on the ground takes over using a portable device to direct the drop. However, the helicopters can deliver a load to given co-ordinates without any human intervention. Jim Naylor of Lockheed Martin says the craft have been tested with radio beacons placed where the drop is needed. The K-MAX then delivers its cargo to within three metres.

这种无人驾驶的K-MAX在运送货物时外带一根25米长的电缆。这种直升机在自动飞往指定地点时要受到监控。一种设在地面上的海事监督器会接管这一监控采用一个移动装置来指导飞机降落。然而,这种直升机还可以在完全无需人干扰的情况下把货运到。马丁公司的相关人员吉姆奈勒讲这种直升机已在所需卸货地安装的无线电遥控塔进行了测试。K-MAX直升机卸货可以准确到3米范围内。

 

The K-MAX has a four-hook carousel, so it can drop off supplies at several locations in one mission. As confidence grows the marines have been experimenting with new techniques. In May they carried out the first “hot hook-up from hover”, which involved attaching cargo while a K-MAX was in flight. This is faster and takes less time than landing to pick things up.

K-MAX 直升机还配备了4个旋转式传送带,为的是在一次任务中多地点地卸货。由于保密等级不断增长,所以海军一直在用最新技术来进行试验。5月份进行了第一次的“ 盘旋吊货试验,”也就是说K-MAX还在飞行中进行装货。这次试验突显更快,比起降落装货所需时间更短。

 

The top speed of the K-MAX is only about 100 knots (115mph), but it has all the virtues of unmanned aircraft: it never gets sick, tired or goes on leave. Helicopter pilots are a scarce resource who take years to train. Terry Fogarty, in charge of unmanned systems at Kaman, says that the single-pilot-manned K-MAX can be flown up to 12 hours a day on logging operations, requiring a change of pilots. In its unmanned form a K-MAX might fly for most of the day. Moreover, if pilots are grounded by reduced visibility during, say, a dust storm, the unmanned version keeps going.

K-MAX 巡航最快时速只有100结(相当于115英里)可最大好处是无人驾驶,也从不像人一样会生病,疲劳或请假。直升机飞行员是稀有资源因为培训所需时间达数年。在卡曼负责无人系统的Terry Fogarty表示一个有人操控飞行的K-KAX一天工作最多也就12个小时就要更换驾驶员了。而无人版的K-KAX或许可以飞行一整天。还有就是飞行员往往受到地面沙尘暴的影响使其能见度降低,无人版就不存在这方面的问题,可以一直运行下去。

 

Other systems for autonomous helicopters are being developed. One, called HERMES—or less elegantly the Helicopter Remote Manipulation of External Slingloads—has been produced by Advanced Optical Systems, an American firm, for the US Armed Forces. It uses sensors on an unmanned helicopter to locate a load and pick it up automatically without having anyone on the ground.

还有其它一些为自动直升机设计的系统正在开发当中。有一种叫爱马士的系统 :是一种也并不是很雅观的直升机远程遥控外挂式悬浮起重机系统-已由美国的一家名为“先进光缆系统公司”制造完成,制造专门为美国军队使用。这套系统采用安装在直升机上面的诸多感应器来锁定装货位置且在无须任何人帮助的情况下将货自动提起。

Safe landings 安全降落

Hazards such as buildings, trees and power lines in the drop zone can be a problem. But the American navy’s Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) first surveys an area to locate such problems before selecting a suitable landing site. It then plots a safe approach route to land without help from a ground controller.

众所周知,在降落区楼房,树林以及高压电线都会给直升机带来灾难性的威胁。可美国海军自动空中货物装载系统(简称 AACUS)在选择一个适合降落的地点前首次巡查该地区以确定相关问题,然后这套系统无须来自地面控制塔的帮助就可以引导出一条安全降落的跑道。

 

This is straightforward enough in benign flying conditions, but the aim is to be able to do it on a steep, unprepared slope in high winds. Although autonomous, an AACUS-equipped craft can communicate with people on the ground to let them know where it is landing. It could be used not just for delivering fuel, ammunition and other supplies, but also for evacuating casualties. (Though there are concerns about carrying injured people on a robotic aircraft without a doctor or a medical attendant on board.)

在飞行状况良好的情况下采用这套系统是足够了,可目的是要能够在大风中可以在陡峭,措手不及的斜坡处降落。尽管是全自动的,可一套配备了(AACUS)系统的飞机还是能够同地面人员进行联系以了解直升机所降落的位置。这套系统不仅可以用来运送燃料,枪支弹药和其它急需物资,还可以对伤员进行评估。( 尽管在没有医生或医务人员的情况下在一架机器人式飞机上载着伤员引起广泛关注)

 

If the K-MAX assessment continues to be successful, the next stage could be an order for more pilotless helicopters by the marines. The army may also be interested. And commercial applications would follow. A change in the rules on airspace regulation would be required for civilian use of drones really to take off, especially in areas where other aircraft operate. Aviation authorities are looking at this, but want to see progress on autonomous safety systems.

如果对K-MAX的评估能持续不断取得成功的话,下一个阶段就会接到订单,会有海军方面订更多无人驾驶直升机。陆军或许也会对此感兴趣。商业订购也会接踵而来。航空管制条例作了一点修改,规定适用所有民用无人驾驶飞机的起飞,特别是在有其它飞机起飞的地方。航空当局在监控这一情况的变化,不过他们还是想看到自动安全系统能得到进一步改善。

An American start-up, Matternet, envisions using small unmanned electric helicopters with a 2kg payload to transport medicine, vaccines and blood samples in remote places. The user puts a package in the load bay and presses a button for the helicopter to take off and make its delivery. Andreas Raptopoulos of Matternet says the firm hopes to conduct a feasibility trial in the Dominican Republic later this year.

一家美国运输公司名为“ Matternet” 正设想开始采用小型无人驾驶电动直升机将负载两公斤药品,疫苗和血液样品运到偏远地区。使用者将货装载货箱中,按一个电钮就可以让直升机起飞,最终送到目的地。这家公司的负责人安德烈亚斯拉托珀罗斯指出公司希望在今年晚些时候在多米尼加共和国做一次可行性试验。

 

Larger electric helicopters could transform the economics of unmanned transport. E-volo, a German company, recently won the Lindbergh prize for innovation, awarded by an American foundation set up to commemorate Charles Lindbergh’s pioneering New York-to-Paris flight. E-volo has produced a flying machine it calls the Volocopter. With 16 rotors, it looks like a scaled up version of some flying toys, although one that is big enough to carry an adult. Given suitable software, unmanned Volocopters could become flying delivery vans, bypassing congested roads. Indeed, one website recently offered to deliver tacos with miniature robotic quadcopters. It was a spoof, but one day fast food really could be delivered this way.

更大的电动直升机可以转变成经济型无人驾驶运输机。像E-volo 是一家德国公司,最近刚荣获由一家美国基金会颁发的奖项,叫林德伯格奖,是专门为奖励发明创造而设立的。而这项奖是为了纪念查尔斯林德伯格开创的纽约到巴黎飞行而设立的。E-volo ( E 浮螺)公司制造的飞行器被称为浮螺飞行器,共装载了16台发动机,看起来像是平地拔起的飞行玩具。无人驾驶的浮螺飞行器足可以成为运载面包车通过拥挤的公路。的确最近有个网站提供一种用微型四引擎驱动的飞行器运送炸玉米饼。看起来挺好玩儿的,可说不定有一天快餐真的就会通过这种方式运送呢!

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