The Boeing Company and the Australian government demonstrated the ability to simultaneously command and control three robot aircraft from an airborne command platform. The demonstration featured three ScanEagle unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) controlled from a Royal Australian Air Force Wedgetail 737 airborne early warning and control aircraft. Operating 120 miles from the Wedgetail, the ScanEagles were assigned tasks such as area search, reconnaissance, point surveillance and targeting. The aircraft demonstrated extended sensing; persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and the transmission of real-time video imagery of ground targets.
U.S. military ground troops have received their first fully modular ground robot system that can launch a variety of munitions, from 40-millimeter beanbags to 40-millimeter high-explosive grenades. The Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS) features a unibody chassis with a plug-and-play design, so warfighters will be able to expand its capabilities as new accessories and attachments become available.
As the U.S. Navy modernizes information systems across the fleet, one organization is responsible for researching, developing and fielding the full range of technologies in the Asia-Pacific region, providing complete life cycle development and support for systems, from concept to fielded capability.
Systems entered in the U.S. Navy’s 17th annual RoboSub competition, held July 28-Aug. 3, are far more sophisticated than the toys that competed in the first competition, which was launched in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“In the earlier days when we first did this, the systems were considered to be some kind of toys,” says Steve Koepenick, an autonomous systems expert with the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, which hosts the competition. “They are now tools. They’re part of the kit that our sailors and Marines take into theater with them. That’s reflected in the competition and the things the students are trying to do.”
The U.S. Army is preparing—for the first time—to develop and field micro robotic systems under programs of record, indicating confidence that the technology has matured and years of research are paying off. The small systems will provide individual soldiers and squads with critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data in jungles, buildings and caves that larger systems can’t reach. Ideally, they will become valued combat team members.
The U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Lab this week wrapped up an Advanced Warfighting Experiment (AWE) in the jungles of Hawaii, which tested a total of 16 systems including unmanned ground vehicles. The experiment was part of the July 9 -14 Rim of the Pacific exercise and could help determine how future Marine forces will fight and which technologies they will use.
The experiment included Marines aboard Navy ships as well as three company landing teams, a relatively new organization construct for the service. The company landing teams are altered rifle companies and represent a different approach to the Battalion Landing Team.
With the war in Afghanistan winding down, the U.S. Defense Department’s rapid deployment office, which specializes in identifying, developing and quickly fielding game-changing technologies, now will take a more long-term approach. Slightly stretching out the process will offer more flexibility to procure the best possible systems, will present more opportunities for interagency and international cooperation and may cut costs.
Researchers working on multiple projects in Europe and the United States are using cloud computing to teach robotic systems to perform a multitude of tasks ranging from household chores to serving hospital patients and flipping pancakes. The research, which one day could be applied to robotic systems used for national defense, homeland security or medical uses, lowers costs while allowing robots to learn more quickly, share information and better cooperate with one another.
To address a changing mission amid broader challenges, the U.S. Marines are implementing the service’s future warfighting strategy this year through training, war gaming and experimentation. The strategy calls for forces to be dispersed over wide areas and will require technologies that enhance warfighters’ effectiveness over greater distances.
Scientists and engineers from MITRE Corporation and Harvard University published a paper this week revealing the development of what they call the most dense nanoelectronic system ever built. The ultra-small, ultra-low-power processor could be used for tiny robotics, unmanned vehicles and a broad range of commercial applications, including medical sensors.
Soldiers involved in the January 6-February 19 Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) will help decide what technologies will be used on the battlefield of tomorrow. The ninth annual exercise, Spiral I, incorporates more than 60 technologies in various stages of development, including Nett Warrior, unmanned aircraft and robotic ground vehicles, all of which are designed to help soldiers do one thing: perform their missions more effectively.
The U.S. Army is looking at the current state of the art in ground robots to revise its requirements for a future unmanned squad support platform. A number of robots were recently evaluated by the service to collect data on their ability to carry supplies, follow infantry over rough terrain and fire weapons in a tactical environment. Army officials say the results of this demonstration will help refine the service’s operational needs and goals before the Army considers launching a procurement program.
To ease the load on weary warfighters inundated with too much information, U.S. Navy scientists are turning to artificial intelligence and cognitive reasoning technologies. Solutions that incorporate these capabilities could fill a broad array of roles, such as sounding the alarm when warfighters are about to make mistakes.
The U.S. Navy intends to deploy an arsenal of airborne, surface and underwater unmanned systems for its new shallow-water combat ship. The array of unmanned systems will extend the ship’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, enhancing awareness of enemy activities, and will reduce the number of sailors deployed to minefields, saving lives.
Domestic security officials aim to replace human divers with an autonomous underwater vehicle whose design is derived from nature: the tuna, one of the fastest and most maneuverable fish in the sea. The vehicle would be used primarily to inspect ship hulls for contraband, saving divers from hazardous trips into hard-to-reach areas below the waterline where oil and other toxic chemicals are part of the mix. Designers also envision the tuna-modeled robot could also be used for search and rescue missions.
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing new control software to reduce the vulnerability of unmanned systems to cyber attack. This effort is relying on new methods of software development that would eliminate many of the problems inherent in generating high-assurance software.
Unmanned vehicles suffer from the same vulnerabilities as other networked information systems. But, in addition to their data being co-opted, unmanned systems can be purloined if adversaries seize control of them. This problem also applies to human-crewed systems with computer-controlled components.
U.S. Army researchers have developed micro materials that fold when hit with a low-intensity laser. The advance may eliminate the need for relatively bulky power systems—such as battery packs—on tiny robotic systems. It also could enable robotic microthrusters, unattended ground sensors, or even—theoretically—programmable, easily changeable camouflage patterns.
The microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are shaped like stars with four, six or eight legs. The legs fold—like origami—when heated slightly with light from a low-level laser. That folding action is accomplished without the materials being tethered to batteries, wires or other any other power supply.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, are continuing to develop a robotic technology that can transform into a virtually infinite number of shapes. In fact, the breakthrough has led to some surprising spin-off projects, including research into aircraft control actuators and medical devices.
Earthbound technologies and computer programming that make most popular video games possible are driving development of the remote-controlled robots now in use by NASA in the unmanned exploration of Mars and the solar system. Those improvements in both hardware and software also spur innovation in the next generation of robots envisioned for use by government and industry. That is important because NASA recently has proposed a new, multiyear program of sending robot explorers to Mars, culminating in the launch of another large scientific rover in the year 2020.
A new facility allows scientists to test innovations for autonomous and unmanned systems.
A new manmade realm allows robots to learn how to scale sheer cliff walls, go from the ocean to the beach or cross hot, burning desert sands. In this environment, researchers can examine the machines’ every move and how they interact with human warfighters. And one day, these robots also may help save sailors’ lives at sea.