Autonomous Flight Systems Laboratory

The mission of the Autonomous Flight Systems Laboratory at the University of Washington is to support advances in guidance, navigation, and control (GN&C) technology relevant to autonomous vehicles and their payload. A parallel objective is to integrate this technology into the flight mechanics and controls courses in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics to provide students with experience and realistic GN&C systems.


The concept of heterogeneous autonomous systems is very broad and encompasses many different technologies. Major thrusts for future C4ISR systems (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) all involve the integration of autonomous vehicle systems. Thus, it is helpful to establish a framework within which one can discuss the research issues one needs to address to bring such systems to reality. Two pervasive issues are communications within such systems and the role of humans in the operation of such systems. Traditional hierarchical structures do not offer the flexibility required to bring out the full potential of these systems, yet no clear alternatives have been proposed.

We propose that a useful classification of autonomous systems is according to characteristic bandwidth requirements. To illustrate this concept, consider a typical C4ISR mission involving teams of multiple heterogeneous vehicles representing a mix of air and surface vehicles.

Possible Autonomous Missions and Scenarios

This typical mission can be decomposed into Strategic (low bandwidth), Tactical (medium bandwidth) and Dynamics and Control (high bandwidth) components. Each of these components will involve various levels of function automation, communications and human operator interaction. The high bandwidth control is focused on individual vehicles and would ultimately become completely autonomous, whereas the strategic and tactical components will always involve some level of human interaction.