Army to Fund Three New Robotic Programs

By Stew Magnuson

The Army is teeing up three new ground robot programs of record as it moves beyond the systems that were rapidly fielded over the past 14 years of war, a service official said Oct. 29.

Requests for proposals will be going out in 2016 for two small robots intended for mounted and dismounted troops and a squad mission support vehicle later In the decade, Scott Davis, program executive officer for combat support and combat service support, said at an Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Arlington, Virginia.

The man-transportable robotic system mark II is envisioned for explosive ordnance disposal and other missions and can be transported in a tactical wheeled vehicle. The Army will release an RFP in the second quarter of 2016, he said.

An RFP for common robotic system-individual for dismounted troops will come in the first quarter of 2017 and should weigh less than 25 pounds including the controller, he said.

The Army is also moving out on a small vehicle, the squad mission equipment transport, which is designed to carry equipment for dismounted troops in rough terrain. Davis said it will probably come In three sizes. Army Training and Doctrine Command is working on the requirements, with an engineering, manufacturing and development phase beginning about 2019 and lasting three years. They would be either tele-operated or fully autonomous.

The Army is also pursuing completely autonomous ground resupply operations by 2040, the director of the service's Tank and Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center said.  

That includes unloading supplies off ships, placing them on trucks and then having those trucks drive themselves to their ultimate destination all without a person in the loop, said Paul Rogers, director of TARDEC.

Starting his talk by acknowledging the Army's glacial pace of integrating robotic technologies into its force, Rogers assured attendees that the service was methodically working toward a day when robotics and autonomous systems are integral to the way it conducts missions.

"Robotics and autonomous systems are key to [having a] differential advantage over our adversaries," he said.

TARDEC is working closely with TRADOC on a robotic and autonomous systems strategy that will serve as a roadmap and provide requirements across all domains, he said. These domains include communications, space, cyber and air. They all have crucial roles to play if ground robots are to be successful, he said. The strategy is expected to be published in March.

"Just leaving it at the ground domain is short sighted," he said. Space and communications are vital for linking to robots. Cyber security must be built in to ensure adversaries can't interfere with the vehicles. Air assets will be needed for coordinating aviation and ground robot teaming.

As for completely autonomous convoys, the Army plans to move at a deliberate pace. It has proven over the last decade that it can drive trucks down a straight, well developed road, but there is more to it than that. It is taking an evolutionary approach with driver-assist technology, now common in commercial vehicles. It would move on to soldiers handing over the bulk of driving to robotic appliqué systems with the driver taking over complex tasks. The final vision is for no humans in the loop at all, he said.

Topics: Robotics, Unmanned Ground Vehicles

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