Researchers are conducting cutting-edge investigations in the area of unmanned systems. The efforts aim to change how humans operate the vehicles by reducing the number of personnel hours and dedicated resources necessary to execute the systems. The projects also could both improve how systems interact with one another and increase their autonomy.
As the demand for robotics expands in both the commercial and public sectors, developers at a university institute are working to move relevant technology into the marketplace rapidly. Engineers are creating smarter systems that are more autonomous and that have applications ranging from agriculture to combat. Current programs are spawning new ideas, and program officials are seeking to demonstrate technology to funding authorities quickly to determine the best path forward early in the development cycle.
Unmanned ground systems have become a vital tool for warfighters operating in Southwest Asia. Initially deploying a handful of machines, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps now deploy thousands of robots into the theater. Ranging from tiny scouts designed to be thrown into windows to remote control mine clearance vehicles, these platforms have saved many lives by replacing soldiers in dangerous jobs, including ordnance disposal and reconnaissance.
Biologists and engineers are melding their expertise to develop robots that look more like a high-priced dinner than a high-explosive detonator. Taking their cue from nature, scientists are designing a sensor-toting techno-crustacean that can operate in sandy, rocky, undulating environments. For military troops, these devices could alleviate the hazard of underwater mines during beach landings and littoral zone operations.
The key to attaining the long-sought goal of fully autonomous unmanned ground vehicles may lie in their ability to recognize reality. Scientists pursuing the development of truly independent robotic vehicles are finding that perception is the key hurdle they must overcome. The development of these vehicles hinges on solving problems relating to perception and its data processing.
After months of preparation, autonomous vehicles hit the road in the California desert to elevate the art of robotics and explore new capabilities for the military. Teams of robotics experts from across the United States brought their unmanned vehicles to Barstow, California, to compete in the U.S. Defense Department's first $1 million Grand Challenge. Although no entry crossed the finish line, the real winner is likely to be the warfighter. Military experts will sift through thousands of lessons learned and move forward on bringing autonomous vehicles to the battlefield.