Engineer Awarded $4.5 Million to Build a “Brain” for Autonomous Hypersonic Vehicles

Hypersonic technologies have been at the forefront of future developments in the military field, and their importance only continues to grow. Higher speeds, coupled with the autonomous systems that are also becoming prevalent in various transportation areas, means stringent safety and performance requirements. This will be the focus of a new research project at the University of Arizona.
Hypersonic technology is at the forefront of military applications 6 photos
Photo: Lockheed Martin
Professor Roberto FurfaroLockheed Martin MissileLockheed Martin MissileLockheed Martin MissileLockheed Martin Missile
Hypersonic is the term used for speed that’s five times greater than the speed of sound, equaling Mach 5 or higher. This has obvious benefits for military applications, but also comes with increased risks, when it involves autonomous systems. Extreme precision is needed in order to guide such vehicles safely and effectively, as the tiniest error could be catastrophic.

In other words, hypersonic interceptors that are meant for defense against enemy aircraft need a powerful brain that’s controlled by artificial intelligence (AI). This brain would consist of complex guidance systems, control features, and navigation technology.

A new three-year research project will be dedicated to this. The project’s sponsor, UCAH (Joint Hypersonic Transition Office through the University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics) has awarded $4.5 million to Roberto Furfaro, as the project’s leader.

Furfaro is a professor of systems and industrial engineering at the University of Arizona, which benefits from the presence of a Research Center for Hypersonics. This is where research teams use complex wind tunnel tests and simulations to study the behavior of vehicles in extreme environments.

Hypersonic interceptors and other vehicles must also be “trained” to navigate in such high-speed, challenging environments, and react with speed and precision. According to UArizona, meta-reinforcement learning, which is a type of machine learning, will be used throughout this trailblazing project.

The team led by Professor Furfaro will conduct several simulations and wind tunnel tests for hypersonic vehicles, to gain feedback which will then be used to train the highly-advanced brain for future systems.

This is another important step for hypersonic technology development, which is at a high point right now. Innovative vehicles such as Sexbomb hypersonic bomb and Stratolaunch’s Roc spaceplane are shaking things up, while Lockheed Martin has recently inaugurated an Advanced Hypersonic Strike Production Facility.
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Editor's note: Gallery showing various types of missiles

About the author: Otilia Drăgan
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Otilia believes that if it’s eco, green, or groundbreaking, people should know about it (especially if it's got wheels or wings). Working in online media for over five years, she's gained a deeper perspective on how people everywhere can inspire each other.
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