The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is moving into the first development phase of its OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program, a capability that will empower dismounted troops to control scores of unmanned air and ground vehicles simultaneously. Once fully evolved, the technology will provide small-unit infantry forces with small, unmanned aircraft and ground systems to support diverse missions in urban areas. The program also seeks to integrate modern swarm tactics and leverage emerging technologies in swarm autonomy and human-swarm teaming.
The Army is pairing traditional weapons and vehicles with autonomous systems, an effort they characterize as the first step toward weaponized robotics. The goal is to be able to use robotic vehicles to leverage capabilities during enemy stand-offs.
Dubbed the ‘Wingman’ Joint Capability Technology Demonstration program or JCTD, the program already has seen success with Army engineers at the Detroit Arsenal, autonomously piloting a revamped Humvee that can accurately hit targets with a mounted 7.62 milometer weapon system, according to Sean Kimmons of the Army News Service.
Within five years, the Army would like to start testing remote combat vehicle (RCV) prototypes that are as light and as fast as a Stryker but provide the same level of firepower as an M-1 Abrams tank, according to a service press release.
While the holy grail is the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV), the Army thinks it can more quickly field a limited number of RCVs, and importantly, the results of that testing could help inform the requirements for the NGCV, which is slated for fielding in 2035.
Science fiction fans recognize Asimov’s prescient thoughts on robot programming, captured in his three laws of robotics. In Asimov’s sci-fi world, robots were all programmed to protect their humans (the first law), to obey their humans (the second law) and to protect themselves (the third law). These laws laid the foundation for many fantastic, futuristic stories and have long provided actionable concepts for today’s robots, including those we launch over our modern battlefields. As the stories advanced, he later added another law, called the “zeroth” law, which had priority over all the others, “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”
The U.S. Air Force’s most prolific scientist likely will never wear a lab coat, but it can perform experiments 100 times faster than its human counterparts. The robo-researcher may one day help spark explosive growth in scientific knowledge.
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL’s) Autonomous Research System (ARES) does not fit the conventional idea of a robotic system. It is not humanoid. It does not move freely across the ground or fly through the air. But in a single day, it can autonomously execute 100 experiments, compared with about one for its human peers.
SRC Incorporated in North Syracuse, New York, is being awarded a $7,957,573 cost-plus-fixed-fee completion contract for multi-intelligence swarm sensing research and development.
U.S. Army scientists and engineers recently designed an aluminum nanomaterial that produces high amounts of energy when it comes in contact with water, or any liquid containing water. Since the nanomaterial powder has the potential to be 3-D printed, researchers envision future air and ground robots that can feed off of their very structures and self-destruct after mission completion. Another possible application of the discovery that may help future soldiers is the potential to recharge mobile devices for recon teams.
Scientists are on the verge of breakthroughs in developing technology for controlling robots with brain waves. Advances might one day allow intuitive and instantaneous collaboration between man and machine, which could benefit a wide array of fields, including the military, medicine and manufacturing.
The possibilities for brain-controlled robotic systems are practically limitless. Experts suggest the capability could allow users to operate unmanned vehicles, wheelchairs or prosthetic devices. It could permit robots to lift hospital patients or carry wounded warriors to safety. Factory robots could more efficiently crank out jet fighters or virtually any other product.
Robots have done their fair share of safeguarding troops on the battlefield, from defusing bombs to scouting out caves for insurgents. In spite of their success, or perhaps because of it, the U.S. Defense Department now wants its unmanned ground vehicles to be more than one-trick ponies.
Robots, drones, automated devices—they are but a few of the names given to unmanned systems proliferating across the military and the commercial sector. The sky’s the limit for unmanned aerial vehicles, and no ocean is too deep for their underwater counterparts. Yet the potential for these devices, which seems unlimited, is being hindered by the human element they support. Planners must abandon convention and explore disruptive approaches that will allow unmanned systems to reach their full promise.
Researchers are planning the inaugural test flight of a cyborg dragonfly, a brand-new type of micro aerial vehicle. Harnessing the power of nature, the hybrid system is smaller, lighter and stealthier than most man-made systems and could prove valuable for military reconnaissance and a variety of other missions.
Scientists with The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Ashburn, Virginia, are partnering on a Draper-funded project known as DragonflEye.
The four-legged Chihuahua-size robot known as the Ghost Minitaur has been updated with advanced reactive behaviors for navigating grass, rocks, sand, vertical terrain, snow and ice fields, urban objects and debris. The platform boasts users including the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Carnegie Mellon University and Google.
Today’s ruggedized robots will go where man has gone before—and where man should no longer have to go. While U.S. defense officials are not ready to fully relinquish warfighting duties to robots, they are on the fast track to acquiring technologies and platforms anticipated to shake up military operations.
Recent technological advances have brought the on-orbit robotic servicing of satellites closer to reality. Now the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has kicked off the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS) to tackle the lack of clear, widely accepted technical and safety standards for responsible performance of on-orbit activities involving commercial satellites.
A U.S. Army research and development organization in Tokyo is forming partnerships across the Asia-Pacific region—including in India, Malaysia and Vietnam—to help support warfighter needs and strengthen ties to neighboring nations.
One partnership involves multiple U.S. organizations that collaborated to modify and field a robotic system capable of working in tunnels or underground facilities to counter weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Researchers have fielded an interim solution, and a program of record is possible.
Foster-Miller, Waltham, Massachusetts, was awarded a $35,400,000 modification (P00013) to contract W56HZV-11-D-0057 for tactically adaptable light ordnance neutralization, family of robots, sustainment, maintenance and repair parts. Work locations and funding will be determined with each order, with an estimated completion date of September 14, 2016. The Army Contracting Command, Warren, Michigan, is the contracting activity.
Every U.S. Army soldier in 2040 may have a personal robot. It also is possible that autonomous systems will carry heavy loads, establish ad hoc mesh networks, act as communications retransmission stations, file spot reports on enemy forces and be the first to engage adversaries on the battlefield.
In the Marvel Universe, Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, creates Ultron as a peacekeeping autonomous robot platform. Imbued with advanced artificial intelligence, Ultron decides that humanity is beyond saving and should be cleansed from the Earth. The slick, shiny robots in the superhero film Avengers: Age of Ultron have no regard for the consequences of breaking the law or for causing compensable injuries and property damage. Fear not, for the Avengers assemble to combat Ultron’s terrible plans and save the world.
People may trust robots too much for their own safety, a new study suggests. In a mock building fire, test subjects followed instructions from an “Emergency Guide Robot” even after the machine had proven itself unreliable and after some participants were told the robot had broken down.
The research was designed to determine whether or not building occupants would trust a robot designed to help them evacuate a high-rise in case of fire or other emergency. But the researchers were surprised to find the test subjects followed the robot's instructions even when the machine’s behavior should not have inspired trust.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created a robotic arm that is being used to measure the properties of antennas rapidly and accurately. The robot, formally named the Configurable Robotic Millimeter-Wave Antenna facility, may be the ultimate innovation, extending measurements to higher frequencies while characterizing antennas faster and more easily than previous NIST facilities.