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Air Force’s 711HPW Uses Information Transfer Agreement to Share Software Research With Private Companies

Author(s):  
Mindy Cooper,

Lab(s):
Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) - 711th Human Performance Wing
Capt. Anthony Castello views the VSCS at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Engineers in the 711HPW’s Supervisory Control & Cognition Branch developed the software, which allows operators to control multiple UAVs at once. It is currently being shared with multiple companies through ITAs. (Photo credit: U.S. Air Force)

The 711th Human Performance Wing’s (711HPW) Airman Systems Directorate is using an Information Transfer Agreement (ITA) construct to provide commercial companies with access to its Vigilant Spirit Control Station software package, which allows operators to control multiple unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) at once.

The Department of Defense (DOD) relies on a variety of UAVs to perform military functions. Similarly, commercial entities use UAVs as a cost-effective solution for numerous activities, including agriculture and forestry management, cellular tower inspection, and landfill monitoring. Because UAVs are piloted remotely, each comes with operator software from the manufacturer. 

Typically, software from the manufacturer is proprietary, meaning that customers can’t modify the software source code to customize its capabilities. This is one reason the Air Force had an interest in developing a new nonproprietary software that can work with multiple groups and brands of UAVs and be easily modified based on operator need. Most importantly, the software is needed to allow operators to maintain multi-vehicle and sensor control. 

Engineers in the 711HPW’s Supervisory Control & Cognition Branch developed the software with a focus on improved human/machine interface and adaptability. The software package offers multi-role, human-machine teaming and an advanced simulation and training component. It has been used in a variety of Air Force training and research and development activities.

“The Vigilant Spirit Control Station, also known as VSCS, was designed with the user experience in mind. We wanted it to be user-friendly, adaptable, and cost-effective. It’s providing a unique advanced capability for future DOD UAV systems,” said Greg Feitshans, chief engineer and program director for the software.

Because the source code can be modified depending on operator need, the software is an important research and development tool for both the Air Force and commercial UAV companies. As a result, the 711HPW has entered into five Information Transfer Agreements (ITAs) with different commercial companies, with several more in the pipeline. The agreements allow researchers from the companies to use the software while protecting the Air Force’s intellectual property rights.

An ITA with Bihrle Applied Research, Inc. has become essential for continued testing of the integration of the VSCS and the Jointly Optimal Conflict Avoidance sense-and-avoid algorithm. A team from Bihrle is working with AFRL Aerospace Systems Directorate on the project.

“Having access to the software allows our algorithm development team to operate and observe the algorithm’s dynamic interaction with the software controls and display functions in real time and under different encounter scenarios,” said Jacob Kay, director of sense-and-avoid technologies at Bihrle. “This firsthand experience with VSCS greatly expedites our development, testing, and refinement process.”

“By allowing government and commercial users to enter into such ITAs, VSCS is more likely to be adopted as a preferred software for controlling multiple UAVs,” said Dr. James Kearns, 711HPW Technology Transfer Program Manager. “The 711HPW also benefits by retaining control of its software while having access to any software enhancements developed by users under the agreements.”

To view this original press release on the AFRL website, visit http://bit.ly/2epDSg3.



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