Virginia Center for Autonomous Systems

VaCAS Vehicle Platforms

VaCAS members maintain a variety of vehicle platforms that are used for research purposes. These platforms include:

SPAARO Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

SPAARO Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

The SPAARO UAV was originally designed by aerospace master’s student Justin Murtha to replace the off-the-shelf Sig® Rascal airframes that students in the Nonlinear Systems Laboratory were using. The SPAARO is built for reliability and safety, with redundant failsafes on critical systems. VaCAS usually maintains three SPAAROs in operating condition.

Interested in more? Read “New Fleet of SPAAROs Takes Flight” from the 2009 Annual Report.

Specification Information
Wingspan 12 feet
Maximum weight 55 pounds, including 10-pound payload
Engine 5.7 HP gasoline-powered, with onboard starter powered by 12 V LiPo battery
Data Processing PC/104 x86-compatible computer with solid-state hard drive
Communications 900 Mhz autopilot, 72 Mhz backup control
Controls Redundant elevators, ailerons, and rudders
Navigation Differential GPS system, airspeed pressure sensor

475 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle

Virginia Tech AUV

The Virginia Tech 475 AUVs are a mature platform that supports a number of research programs. They can be reconfigured for a variety of payloads and missions. The 475 AUVs were designed and built by Tech faculty and students.

A recent test demonstrated the ability of two 475 AUVs to manuever indepedently, with only minimal communication exchanges, and coordinate the tracking of an acoustic source located on a stationary boat.

The team is currently developing a new AUV platform. This new AUV will be capable of deploying an anchor in order to moor itself on the ocean floor and remain on station for extended periods of time. It will travel a long distance to the mooring location, and then release the anchor at a desired time and return a long distance to be recovered.

The self-mooring AUV concept, led by Wayne Neu and Dan Stilwell, was successfully demonstrated for the Navy sponsor using a prototype vehicle based on the 475 AUV. A larger version of the AUV is being designed for deployment next year.

Find out more about the 475 AUVs in “Some teams don't require lots of communication,” originally published in the VaCAS Annual Report.

Specification Information
Length 15.7 feet
Diameter 4.75 inches
Mass 18.3 pounds
Endurance >8 hours
Propulsion/Control Brushless dc motor with encoder feed-back; 4 independently servoed flaps
CPU/Software x86 compatible; Linux OS-based database server architecture utilizing TCP/IP client/server connections; published API for new mission software
Communications 900 Mhz RF modem/ Wi-Fi with external antenna; WHOI micromodem for acoustic communication
Navigation GPS, transponder-based acoustic navigation; time-synchronized acoustic navigation for AUV-AUV ranging, and AUV–chase-boat ranging; gyrostabilized dead reckoning

15.7’ Unmanned Surface Vehicle

Virginia Tech USV

The Virginia Tech USV is a 15.7 feet long rigid-hull inflatable boat. VaCAS has used it as a platform to develop methods for autonomous navigation of river environments, in collaboration with the Naval Postgraduate School. The Tech USV uses a laser-line scanner, optical cameras, and GPS to navigate a river system even in the presence of incomplete or misleading map data. A recent test at Peak Creek, Va. demonstrated the USV's ability to safely navigate a 4km stretch of the river in only 25 minutes.

Read more in “High-speed USVs for river recon,” originally published as part of the 2009 Annual Report.

Specification Information
Length 15.7 feet
Beam 6 feet 9 inches
Draft 12 inches
Top speed 25 knots
Electricity Provided by a 12 V, 70 Ah battery and an alternator on the outboard motor, with a backup gasoline generator
Hardware Ruggedized laptop in watertight housing
Communications 2.4 Ghz WiFi outdoor router with long rang 8.5 dBi antenna; emergency stop over 900 Mhz radio link
Navigation Differential WAAS GPS and Microstrain 3DM-GX1 Attitude and Heading Reference System
Sensing Ibeo Alasca XT laser-line scanner and an omnidirectional optical camera, both mounted on the aft mast

Unmanned Ground Vehicles

VaCAS-TORC collaboratively developed entry into the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge

The collaboration between TORC and VaCAS began with the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. Team Victor Tango, a joint venture between Tech and TORC, was one of three teams to successfully complete the DARPA Challenge, and the only team to produce a JAUS-interoperable vehicle, enabling easy interoperability with Department of Defense projects using JAUS.

In collaboration with TORC, a Virginia Tech spinoff company, VaCAS has contributed to the development of the ARCH system for the U.S. military, which uses the technology developed for the DARPA Urban Challenge. ARCH consists of an optionally unmanned lead vehicle that can operate autonomously or by remote control from a manned chase vehicle. The robotic vehicle could potentially serve several uses, including delivering supplies, evacuating casualties, and acting as a decoy for IEDs. Read about ARCH at the TORC website, or find out more in “Ground Vehicles: out of Tech's botcave and into the field,” published in the 2009 Annual Report.


RoMeLa robots

CHARLI humanoid robot

Dr. Dennis Hong, a core faculty member of VaCAS, directt Tech's Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa). Hong's team is currently working on a new humanoid robot, CHARLI (pictured left). CHARLI will be a low-weight 1.3 m tall robot capable of human-like motions. Instead of the brute-force method used by famous Japanese humanoid robots such as Asimo or HUBO, CHARLI will walk using actuated-passive dynamics, a strategy which uses the delicate play between kinetic and potential energy in a controlled fall, just as the human gait does. Read more about CHARLI and the other RoMeLa robots at the laboratory website, or in the feature article from the 2009 VaCAS Annual Report.