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.
The next five years will be as exciting as the last decade--but in a different way.
Unmanned vehicles will undergo an array of changes in the coming years brought about by the war in Afghanistan winding down, budgets tightening and the national strategy shifting toward the Asia-Pacific region. Adjustments may include the retirement of some unmanned air systems, a stronger focus on refining existing unmanned planes rather than fielding new ones and increased research and development of land and maritime technologies.
A smart robot with the ability to work side-by-side with human warfighters is the goal of a new Army Research Laboratory (ARL) program involving industry and academia.
At the heart of ARL’s Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance (RCTA) is $63.2 million in funding designed to advance basic research in key areas linked to the development of autonomous robots, according to Jon Bornstein, chief of ARL’s Autonomous Systems Division and manager for the RCTA.
Organization focuses on building and testing prototypes quickly and including program sponsors earlier in the process.
The Crusher unmanned ground combat vehicle (UGCV) performs during a field test. When raised, the long mast enables surveillance capabilities.