Search Continues For Driverless Convoy Vehicles

By Eric Beidel

The Pentagon has hit some stumbling blocks in its efforts to develop unmanned vehicles, but officials still have hopes of deploying a range of systems that can trick enemy fighters and keep troops safe from improvised explosive devices.

The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization “sees this technology as an enabler that could improve freedom and speed of maneuver for today’s fight,” spokesman David Small told National Defense.

JIEDDO’s experiments have taken on many forms and have looked at tactical wheeled, tracked and commercial vehicles. They started with sacrificial vehicles such as unmanned Humvees that would lead convoys and take the brunt of an IED explosion. These vehicles, called ghost ships, are remotely controlled from farther back in the convoy. Soldiers were enthusiastic about the concept while trying it out last year during an Army exercise in the southwest desert, but they also had serious concerns.

Troops want vehicles that can be easily recovered after a blast and that have sensors for detecting the bombs and technology that can also neutralize them. Thus far, JIEDDO has experimented only with sensors that help vehicles operate autonomously. In addition, recovery of a damaged vehicle could be a lengthy and tricky process as a Humvee with no passengers makes for an easy target, officials said.

JIEDDO’s main focus is determining how sophisticated an unmanned vehicle needs to be to have an impact on the battlefield, Small said.

“In general, the possibility of using a large, unmanned vehicle and how it could be implemented is out-of-the-box thinking,” he said. “That makes it difficult to judge what level of autonomy is needed to meet war fighter needs.”

The idea is to first develop a driverless vehicle that can keep up with mounted operations. Then, officials will turn their attention to payloads that can detect and neutralize IEDs, Small said.

Topics: Robotics, Unmanned Ground Vehicles

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