As part of its effort to transform itself into a lighter, more
mobile fighting force-while minimizing casualties-the Army is placing
increased emphasis on its unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) program,
known as Demo III, according to John Bornstein, program manager
at the Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
"The Army chief of staff has placed a very high priority on
deployability and survivability, Bornstein said. "Unmanned
vehicles are solutions to that." Bornstein made his remarks
at the NDIA's recent Science & Engineering Conference, held
at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, in
The Army formally rolled out the first two experimental unmanned
vehicles at Aberdeen last fall.
The Demo III robotic vehicles, roughly the size of Humvees, are
designed to be operated by humans at a distance in an accompanying
control vehicle. They can perform reconnaissance, surveillance and
even combat missions, going where it may be too dangerous to send
The unmanned vehicles also can be used to handle routine jobs,
such as hauling freight, freeing up humans for other work. Asked
Bornstein: "Why should I task soldiers with driving a truck?
Why not let the truck drive itself?"
Because the Demo III vehicles have no crews, they require less
armor, making them much lighter and smaller than vehicles with humans
on board, Bornstein said.
The Demo IIIs are operated by remote control. Each vehicle has a
communications range of about eight kilometers and is capable of
Each has sensor packages that include forward-looking infrared,
radar, laser detection and ranging (LADAR), acoustic and vision
A vision-processing system enables vehicles to cooperate in a search
of an area and to hand off target tracking from one vehicle to another.
The vision sensors--essentially on-board cameras-do pose some problems,
Bornstein said. For one thing, the cameras currently in use permit
driving only during daylight hours.
Also, Bornstein said, the cameras give drivers in the control vehicle
"a two-dimensional view of the road." They can't see anything
beyond the periphery of the camera.
"The drivers can't tell whether they are on a nice, flat road,
or going over a cliff. They have a hard time seeing potholes. Clearly,
that's not satisfactory."
The laboratory plans to install cameras equipped with stereo vision,
sensitive enough for nighttime operations.
Currently, the vehicles are capable of cross-country speeds of
about 10 mph during the day and 5 mph at night.
By September 2001, the program's goal is to double those speeds.
The goal for roadway travel is 40 mph.
So far, officials are pleased with the vehicles' performance, Bornstein
said. During recent war games at the Army's National Training Center,
in California's Mojave Desert, scouts sent unmanned vehicles ahead
of them to learn the enemy's location, then called in air strikes.
Afterwards, Bornstein said, an observer noted, "You know,
I've never seen scouts in that situation survive before."