Lockheed Martin Investing in Autonomy, Manned-Unmanned Teaming Technology

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

As advancements in autonomy come to fruition, manned/unmanned teaming between humans and advanced robots will play a key role in the future of warfare, Lockheed Martin executives and researchers said March 15.

There is “often a misconception that autonomy … means taking power away from a human. Here at Lockheed Martin we take the exact opposite approach. It’s about enabling the human to do what the human really does best,” said Bartlett Russell, senior research scientist for human systems optimization at Lockheed’s Advanced Technology Laboratories. “Ultimately the human is our best asset in the field, our most adaptable asset in the field.”

Lockheed is working on technology such as cognitive exoskeletons that can monitor and sense the state of a human and subsequently augment performance, she said during a briefing at Lockheed Martin’s annual media day in Arlington, Virginia.

While wearable devices like Fitbit — which monitors a user’s steps per day and health data — are well understood, Lockheed wants its systems to be even more personalized, she said.

“Using our computing power we can highly individualize these algorithms,” she said. “It’s taking what we can do on a sort of coarse level with our commercial sensors and … bringing it to the high fidelity level that we would need to make it reliable, predictive." 

"In an operational environment, things get messy very quickly. We need to make sure that it really is tuned to the person," she said.

Advancements in autonomy go hand-in-hand with the Defense Department’s third offset strategy, said Bill Casebeer, research area manager for human systems and autonomy at the lab.

“The third offset … is the idea that we’ll be able to use certain revolutions in technology to help both reduce cost and increase capability for our warfighters. The previous offsets being our nuclear strategy and the development of stealth and precision guided munitions technology,” he said. “If we are ... to realize that third offset, we need to focus on technologies that allow human beings and their autonomous machines to work together synergistically as an effective team.”

For example, it takes about 270 people to coordinate the flight and data collection of an MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle, Casebeer said. “Is there any way we can invert that so that one human being can control many remotely piloted vehicles to help drive down costs and increase capability?”

For manned/unmanned teaming to work, researchers have to tap into a concept known as the “theory of mind,” he said. Essentially, it’s the idea that humans have the capability to understand the mental state of others through observation, he said.

“Building a theory of mind layer into our autonomous teammates will allow them to interpret our commands, our intention so that we can realize that third offset,” he said.

For example, Casebeer pointed to the fictional character of Rosie the Robot on the popular show The Jetsons.

“What made her such an effective teammate for the Jetsons family was her ability to know that when she was handing you the plate, you were going to take it from her and wipe it with a towel,” he said. “She had a theory of mind capability and so if we can give our autonomous teammates theory of mind then they will be able to be more effective than Rosie the Robot, not just in helping us clean up around the house but also in accomplishing very difficult tasks on the battlefield.”

Photo Credit: iStockphoto

Topics: Robotics, Science and Engineering Technology

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