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.