The Army is partnering with Uber to create safer, more lethal unmanned aerial vehicle missions.
The new effort between the Army Research Laboratory and the rideshare company, announced on Tuesday, aims to create silent rotor technology.
The goal is to reduce the noise caused by traditional UAV rotors.
“When UAVs are doing an [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] mission, they’re out there collecting or observing to collect intelligence or to do surveillance,” Jaret Riddick, director of ARL’s Vehicle Technology Directorate, told Army Times after the announcement.
That mission is hampered, however, when the adversary can hear the UAV coming, Riddick said.
“They know a certain noise in the distance means a certain type of operation is underway,” he said. “When you can do that with the advantage of not being detected … it changes how you execute a mission.”
Uber Elevate, under which the air taxi side of the company falls, is interested in noise-reduction technology because its vehicles would be operating in dense urban areas.
Since Uber is a technology company, ARL will build the UAVs for testing the technology.
One kind of technology Uber is looking at to solve the noise problem is the idea of having stacked rotors on a vehicle that spin in the same direction.
Traditionally, UAVs have stacked rotors that spin in opposite directions.
“When those rotors are spinning in opposite directions, they create a type of turbulence that contributes to noise in the operation,” Riddick said. “By having them spin in the same direction and adjusting their position to one another, research has shown that using this technique can offer advantages in performance while reducing the noise compared with traditional operations.”
One of these performance advantages is more lift capability, he said.
Last year, Uber announced the Dallas-Forth Worth area as its first location for flight demonstrations in 2020, and Riddick said Uber will collaborate with ARL-South researchers in Austin.
Uber and ARL-South will build the infrastructure needed for testing, Riddick said, adding that progress will be checked every six months.
“Uber is proud to be partnering with ARL on critical research on flying vehicle innovations that will help create the world’s first urban aviation rideshare network,” Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, said in a news release.
“Our first jointly-funded project will help us develop first of its kind rotor technology that will allow for quieter and more efficient travel. We see this initial project as the first of many and look forward to continued collaboration with the lab on innovations that will make uberAIR a reality.”