Navy Engineers, Marine Warfighters Test Autonomous Unmanned Ground Vehicles
(Source: U.S Navy; issued August 6, 2010)
DAHLGREN, Va. --- Navy civilian engineers teamed with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL) to test the capabilities of unmanned autonomous vehicles under development to support a variety of Marine Corps missions during the 2010 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise held from June 23 to Aug. 1.
Engineers from Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren Division, a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command, evaluated the impact of multiple ground unmanned support surrogate (GUSS) vehicles – designed and built by Virginia Tech students – which support Marine Corps resupply, "follow me," casualty evacuation and reconnaissance missions.
"Our immediate goal to showcase the GUSS technology through experimentation is a success," said Brent Azzarelli, NSWC Dahlgren Division GUSS project manager, after the MCWL Enhanced Company Operations limited objective experiment (LOE) 4. "GUSS is pushing the envelope on small tactical vehicle autonomy and obstacle avoidance, and we are optimistic that this technology will bring a capability to the warfighter in the very near future."
Azzarelli and his team – joining a company of Marines to work with four GUSS vehicles at RIMPAC until July 16 – demonstrated the robots' ability to provide logistics support to the dismounted Marine in the exercise that supported command and control of units ashore from a sea base up to 100 miles away.
"GUSS proved that it can find its own path based on the environment when navigating in 'follow me' mode," said Ron Colbow, NSWC Dahlgren's engineer. "GUSS is truly autonomous and does not require a Marine to navigate the vehicle with a joystick. The Marines on patrol can continue to carry their weapon and be fully functional without having an autonomous vehicle take away their tactical readiness."
Moreover, Marines can use a handheld device with an integrated laser range finder to send waypoints to the unmanned vehicles designed to re-supply troops and provide an immediate means for the evacuation of any casualties in combat. A single GUSS vehicle carries up to 1,800 pounds at about five miles per hour.
"GUSS lightens the load for Marines who often go on patrols with more than 100 lbs of gear on their backs," said Elizabeth Carlson, NSWC Dahlgren Division engineer, one of three Dahlgren engineers participating in the MCWL tests coinciding with RIMPAC. "These experiments help us determine the utility a small unmanned ground vehicle can have at the squad level and help the Marines Corps determine what missions are right for GUSS."
The LOE and two previous limited technical assessments provided the project's Quantico, Va.-based MCWL sponsor with an analysis of the current GUSS configuration and its ability to perform the missions. The feedback of warfighters operating GUSS contributed to the analysis and a government-managed estimate of the emerging technology's maturity level.
"The eight trained Marine operators all said that GUSS improved their tactical readiness and tactical operations for most mission areas," said Azzarelli.
Marines on patrol can continue to carry their weapons and be fully functional without having an autonomous vehicle take away their tactical readiness. GUSS also maintains the ability for manned operation.
Built on a Polaris MVRS 700 6x6 chassis, the GUSS vehicle is outfitted with commercial off-the-shelf components, including LIDAR technology, electro-optical cameras, an inertial navigation system and a drive-by-wire system to allow for autonomous operation.
The GUSS project is one of the mutually beneficial innovative research projects and activities developed as a result of an on-going agreement between NSWC Dahlgren and Virginia Tech's Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. Future plans include two more GUSS experiments in fiscal years 2011 and 2012. Dahlgren will continue to lead the project for MCWL and use Virginia Tech and TORC technologies as we moved forward to enhance the system based on lessons learned from LOE 4.
Elbit Systems launches two new robots, creating a VIPeR family
August 09, 2010
During Elbit Systems' latest exhibition displaying advanced land and C4I solutions, the Company launched two new members of the VIPeR family of intelligent and portable robots: Mini-VIPeR and Maxi-VIPeR, which join the combat-proven VIPeR robot, already operational in the Israel Defense Forces under the Hebrew name "Pazit."
Building on Elbit Systems' extensive experience and know-how in the unmanned systems field, and using a common control system, the robots feature intuitive operation and enable real-time reconnaissance, in addition to arena clearing, in-building mapping, decoy and screening functions.
The Mini-VIPeR robot is an extremely light-weight one-person portable system (weighing approximately 3.5 kg), equipped with advanced sensors that allow full operation in various adverse terrains, as well as allowing ground forces to survey structures before entering by literally throwing the robot through the window or into a dark tunnel.
The larger compact robot, Maxi-VIPeR, allows the disarming of explosives and handling radioactive materials using its robotic arm and the various advanced sensors.
Designed to reduce the danger to the dismounted force during different phases of combat, the VIPeR family of robots can take on many of the challenges faced by land warriors engaged in today's low intensity conflicts (LIC). Portable and highly mobile, the robots are configurable for multiple types of missions by add-on sensors, modules and payloads, tailored to specific tasks.
Early investments in mobile manipulators, or robots, have led to a family of ground platforms now used in military operations for many missions, including countering improvised explosive devices. Although these robots save lives and help reduce casualties, they have limitations. Most require significant human interaction, which increases the time required to complete tasks. Robot performance under human remote control is limited by video fields of view, perspective and communications bandwidth.
DARPA’s latest effort, the Autonomous Robotic Manipulation (ARM) program, envisions robots with a high degree of autonomy requiring only high-level supervision by an operator. This simplifies human control and could drastically improve execution of tasks. If successful, these future robots could perform multiple military missions.
The goal of the four-year ARM program is to develop software and hardware that enables a robot to autonomously grasp and manipulate to perform complicated tasks with a human providing only high-level direction.
Three research teams are participating in the hardware track of this program: iRobot, Sandia National Laboratories and SRI International are developing designs for a new multi-finger hand with an emphasis on robust design and low cost. Six teams working in the software track will develop software that enables the robot to perform several tasks. Software researchers include Carnegie Mellon University, HRL Laboratories, iRobot, NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory, SRI International and University of Southern California.
In addition to hardware and software initiatives, DARPA plans an outreach track, which will make available an identical robot for public use. This will allow anyone the opportunity to write software, test it, upload it to the actual system then watch via the Internet as this DARPA robot executes that software. Teams involved in this outreach track will be able to collaborate with other teams around the world.
DARPA plans to showcase the robot developed for the ARM program at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Conference in Denver, August 24-27. Instructions will be available on how groups can become involved in the interactive portion of this DARPA program.
DARPA’s program manager, Dr. Robert Mandelbaum, will be available for questions August 24 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at AUVSI’s press briefing room. He will give a presentation on the ARM program at a time to be announced later at the “Beyond the Booth” showcase.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking for ideas on ways to develop highly autonomous robots that can perform dangerous and complicated tasks like manning a vehicle checkpoint to firing a mortar with limited human control.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte)
The project, known as the Autonomous Robotics Manipulation (ARM) program, seeks software and hardware that will improve the ability of robots' hands to grasp and manipulate objects and perform complicated tasks.
“This is a very nascent field. It really hasn't reached its stride,” Robert Mandelbaum, the program's manager told a briefing at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Denver.
He envisions robots that will be able to act independently in a variety of tasks including underwater counter-mine operations, search and rescue, casualty care and bomb detection and disposal.
Robots can lift heavy objects and perform repetitive tasks in factories – even sing and dance – but there isn't a lot they can do with their hands, Mandelbaum says. They have limited flexibility, especially when it comes to handling irregularly shaped objects like a backpack or an MRE (meals ready to eat) sack. So DARPA is looking for software that can make robots more resilient and adaptive, and hardware that can make low cost robotic hands that are more flexible, he says. The hands on DARPA's testbed robot cost $75,000, Mandelbaum notes.
The idea is to reduce operator workload, bandwidth, hardware complexity and training time for robotic tasks, he adds.
DARPA has about $50 million in funding for the 48-month project. The Pentagon's think-outside-the-box research unit already has a $300,000 robot to be used as a common platform on which researchers can test their software.
In June, DARPA selected six teams to research improving robots' hand-coordination: the University of Southern California, HRL Laboratories, NASA-Joint Propulsion Lab, iRobot, Carnegie Mellon University and SRI International.
They're tasked with improving robots' grasping and manipulation abilities in three phases starting with simple tool operation and ranging to more complex ones like erecting a tent and loading a weapon.
DARPA is also seeking input from the public: academics, students or hobbyists. Details about the project – including a name the robot contest – can be seen at http://thearmrobot.com/
AUVSI: Oshkosh adds autonomy to Army, Marine Corps trucks
By Brett Davis
Oshkosh Defense is showcasing a new autonomous unmanned truck, a US Army Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) Load Handling Systems variant equipped with the company's TerraMax self-driving technology.
The LHS model is a nine-ton, 6x6 all-wheel drive truck that's transportable via C-130 aircraft. The TerraMax unmanned ground vehicle technology is a kit that can be integrated on new vehicles as they are produced or retrofitted to existing fleet vehicles.
The aim is to get as many soldiers as possible out of the supply and logistics chain so they are less vulnerable to attacks from improvised explosive devices. Ultimately, full autonomy is the goal, but in the meantime the company is working to make military vehicles smarter. The LHS has forward-looking sensors, lidars and three radars with advanced algorithms to better handle obscurants such as dust.
The company is also working with the US Marine Corps Warfighter Lab on a two-year cargo UGV demonstration, also aimed at getting humans out of the logistics chain. Oshkosh won a bid for the work and the project is now beginning, said Brent Azzarelli, the chief robotics engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division. The Marines are already working on a smaller unmanned ground vehicle program for dismounted Marines, but the new effort focuses on larger convoys and uses a TerraMaxed version of the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR).
The two-year project, done in conjunction with the Robotics Technology Consortium, is aimed at demonstrating the technology that could lead to a set of requirements that in turn could lead to a formal program of record, although Azzarelli said "I can't speculate when we'll see this or not. We're just trying to experiment with a capability."
Although the idea of using unmanned vehicles to remove wounded soldiers from the battlefield isn't likely to translate soon to an operational system, companies around the world are tapping into the market. And if the USA is lagging in coming to the battlefield extraction fold, a little funding could go a long way in an industry ripe to boom.
If the country is going to make a commitment to do this, it needs a comprehensively funded program to capitalize on a range of relatively low-level research and technology projects that have been under way for years in various government and industry labs, says Gary Gilbert, head of the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
"We need the country to say - the Department of Defense to say - 'Yes, we're going to do this in the future. We're going to build a program to develop these capabilities, to identify what the technical requirements and the operational requirements are to be able to do this,'" says Gilbert.
TATRC is in the forefront of unmanned casevac, or casualty evacuation, but, says Gilbert, "I've gone about as far as I can go with the kind of funding I have," which is mostly to develop prototypes and fund Small Business Innovation Research grants.
But, he says, it's a worthy endeavor. "Why expose soldiers or medics to risk if you can do some of this stuff with robots? Especially given the fact that we lose the soldier and the casualty sometimes - both guys get killed. So if we can reduce the exposure of two soldiers to maybe just one-and-a-half, or one soldier and a robot, we can save some lives. That's what we're trying to do."
A challenge for potential designers of unmanned casevac systems, in addition to money, is the US military's position that no wounded soldier will be sent from one location to another without someone in attendance.
AAI (booth 1000), maker of unmanned aerial systems like the Shadow, is broadening its interest in the UAS field and would be able to meet this demand, according to Steven Reid, vice president of unmanned aircraft systems. AAI has signed a licensing agreement with a company called Carter Aviation, giving AAI exclusive rights to a Carter idea known as slowed rotor/compound technology. SR/C, according to AAI, is "a fixed- and rotary-wing hybrid that [delivers] high-speed, long endurance and vertical/short takeoff and landing capability at low cost." Any proposal for an unmanned casevac aircraft that AAI submitted would be based on a Carter passenger-carrying aircraft, Reid says. Airworthiness standards for an unmanned vehicle, he says, would thus be identical to those for a manned aircraft.
Military officials have nevertheless expressed concern about the consequences if unmanned vehicles crash. Advocates of unmanned casevac counter that it's almost always better to attempt a rescue.
In fact, some say the requirement that a wounded soldier must always be accompanied is outdated because of advances in technology. "This has nothing to do with science. It has to do with politics and the sociology of patient care," says Richard Satava, professor of surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.
Satava, who served as a combat surgeon and at DARPA, helped develop the Life Support for Trauma and Transport (LSTAT) system, basically an intensive care unit with full telemedicine capability that can be taken to the battlefield. The US military began using it in 2000, and it remains in service today.
LSTAT was taken a step further when it was used in a 2008 demonstration of an operating room with no people, not even a surgeon, according to Satava. Using a daVinci surgical robot, developed by DARPA in the 1990s, researchers showed that animals could be successfully operated on with no one in the operating room.
A follow-on effort was intended to show that this setup could be made small enough to fit into a pod that could be carried by unmanned aircraft. The idea, proposed to DARPA in 2005, was that the aircraft could be used to transport supplies to troops and take wounded soldiers out on the way back. Researchers determined relevant parameters so that future developers of unmanned helicopters or vertical takeoff and landing UAS would know what was needed for such medical systems as power and oxygen, according to Satava.
He favors unmanned air evacuation over unmanned ground evacuation, which would be for relatively short distances anyway. Air is "less vulnerable, it's quicker and it's direct." Others say it'll be a while before people are willing to climb onto an unmanned aircraft. The idea of transporting casualties in unmanned aircraft was called Nightingale, but it never got past the concept stage.
DARPA's new Transformer, or TX, project has echoes of Nightingale.
Its goal is prototype development of a kind of flying car that would take soldiers over any kind of terrain. There would be an unmanned version.
AAI is one of a number of companies bidding on TX. Its team members include Carter Aviation and Terrafugia, which is developing a roadable light sport aircraft. AAI also is working with Boston Dynamics on DARPA's Legged Squad Support System, or LS3, a sort of robotic pack mule that would carry heavy loads for soldiers. Many of the technologies used in unmanned aircraft are used in LS3, according to AAI's Reid.
Another hurdle for designers of unmanned casevac systems is that there's no firm US military requirement. But this may be coming, as evidenced by studies under way in places like US Joint Forces Command and the Army's Training and Doctrine Command.
Unmanned casevac may also benefit from TX, as well as from a Marine Corps effort to develop an unmanned helicopter for resupply. Lockheed Martin is teamed with Kaman to demonstrate an unmanned version of the K-Max helicopter for this job, and Boeing has shown how its unmanned A-160 Hummingbird could do the mission. "If they could get resupply working, they could do probably something with a casualty evacuation system," says Larry Dickerson of Forecast International.
ANOTHER WAY IN
Advocates of unmanned casevac could get a further boost from a planned demonstration in Afghanistan early next year of Lockheed Martin's autonomous Squad Mission Support System (SMSS), developed by the company to lighten the load of soldiers and Marines. It can carry 544kg (1,200 pounds) of gear for a nine- to 13-person squad, according to Lockheed Martin (booth 614). Don Nimblett, senior business development manager for unmanned systems at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, says the plan is for the Army to evaluate four of the vehicles for three months in Afghanistan.
He predicts a decision during that period to evacuate a soldier on an SMSS. "I think they may put him up on the vehicle and tell it to go back to some point, and another soldier will walk along with him to make sure he's safe."
Marshall Land Systems Unveils Remote Control Land Rover
(Source: Marshall Land Systems; issued Sept. 21, 2010)
CAMBRIDGE, U.K. --- A remotely controlled Land Rover developed by Marshall SDG, part of Cambridge based Marshall Land Systems, is unveiled today.
Based on a standard issue long wheelbase military vehicle, it is designed to travel in areas where putting vehicle crew at risk is not a viable option. The vehicle can be used to carry a variety of sensors or loads for reconnaissance, survey or other operations in a hazardous area.
The remote driver’s position is complete with all controls, steering wheel and instruments which replicate what the driver would experience if sitting in the actual vehicle. The driver has a screen which provides him with a real time image of the view from the driver’s position in the Land Rover. This remote driver location can be fitted to any vehicle or building which has the space.
In the remotely controlled vehicle the controls are managed by a series of servos and mechanical devices which turn the steering wheel or push on the pedals. Any vehicle with an automatic gearbox can be converted. The equipment installed in the remote Land Rover has been designed to be fitted or removed in less than 30 minutes so that vehicle can revert to being directly controlled by a driver.
“This development demonstrates the extensive capabilities of our engineers to provide agile solutions which are easily adapted to in-service equipment and provide novel solutions to overcome operational concerns,” said Peter Callaghan, Chief Executive of Marshall Land Systems.
Marshall Land Systems (MLS) is part of Marshall Group, a large (£750M) family owned independent group of companies involved in the automotive, aerospace and land systems areas. Headquartered in Cambridge UK, Marshall Group can trace its history back to 1909.
MLS specialises predominantly in defence vehicle and shelter design, manufacture, integration and product support. MLS has five major components, which design and produce shelters and specialist vehicles, manufacture vehicle load beds, a specialist design division which carries out UOR work, EOD, EMI, EMC, Safety Cases and Consultancy, a fleet solutions division dedicated to provision of whole fleet support and a 50:50 JV with Plasan to provide armouring solutions. MLS has recently established a new business in Norway, Marshall SV Norway, to support its work in the country.
Not obvious from the Marshall announcement, but this is aimed at utilising all the Snatch Landies that will become surplus as LPPV etc come into UK service............
Unmanned option for surplus Snatch vehicles
September 22, 2010
Providing a solution for ‘several thousand’ Snatch Land Rovers earmarked for disposal, Marshall Land Systems yesterday unveiled an unmanned version of the much-maligned vehicle, designed for force protection duties in Afghanistan.
On show for the first time at its Petersfield site in Hampshire, the 4x4 technology demonstrator (TD) is based on the long wheelbase military vehicle which has come in for criticism during operations in Afghanistan for its lack of protection against improvised explosive devices.
Speaking to Unmanned Vehicles, Marshall Land Systems said the TD provided a perfect solution for Snatch 1 and 2 vehicles, some of which have already been lined up to be sold onto the civilian market.
‘It has potential for a number of different applications varying from detection of various objects through to convoy protection and route clearance,’ Marshall Land Systems’ future business director, Tim Otter told UV.
Earlier in the year, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) released initial funding for development of an unmanned Snatch TD with sources telling UV that there were plans to employ such a system for surveillance duties around bases.
Elsewhere, UV understands that the MoD is in talks with UGV developer G-Nius regarding the possible procurement of its AvantGuard system for operations in Afghanistan, according to industry sources.
They added that the MoD was seeking a variety of assets to counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as employed by insurgent forces in Afghanistan. A cheaper alternative could be Marshall Land Systems’ Snatch TD.
The Snatch 2 tests were carried out earlier this year at Hullavington airfield and Dunsfold aerodrome, proving basic unmanned mobility controlled at ranges up to 500 metres. However, Marshall Land Systems said range limitations were dependent upon communications links used.
‘We are looking at ground penetrating radar and other technologies and are talking to a variety of firms,’ Otter added while describing how the vehicle can easily revert back to manned operation for use inside bases such as Camp Bastion in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
John Harris, managing director of Marshall Land Systems said: ‘The concept of operations need to be thought through. The TD could be used as a “sacrificial lamb” but if you lose it at head of convoy, you lose your eyes at the front.’
The remote driver’s position, which can be located in a fixed position or follow-up vehicle, is complete with all controls, steering wheel and instruments which replicate what the driver would experience if sitting in the actual vehicle. The operator has a screen which provides him with a real time image of the view from the driver’s position in the Land Rover.
Though science fiction may warn us against tempting fate, robots typically don’t mind carrying your stuff on a hot day or a long mission. So it’s easy to see why the Marines are testing out their own Johnny Five-style cargo ‘bot.
That would be GUSS, the Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate vehicle. Currently in development at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, Va., GUSS is a sensor-loaded remote-controlled cybermule that Marines are using in simulations to haul gear or get their wounded out of danger. You can pre-program a route into GUSS’ navigation system, letting it go off on its own, or direct it Wii-style using a steering-wheel-like controller. Unfortunately, it appears to have at least one big design flaw.
Sure, Johnny Five was a tracked vehicle and GUSS has wheels. (Also, GUSS probably isn’t alive. Yet.) But like the Short Circuit protagonist, GUSS’ main applications operate along a decidedly low-tech principle: just make Marines’ lives easier. Grace V. Jean reports in the latest National Defense that Marine squads training in the Hawaii heat with GUSS carrying their water supplies were able to complete more practice patrols than those who had to haul their water themselves. Thanks, robot!
He’s even got a counterinsurgency mode. Marines conducting a sit-down with mock Afghan villagers rested their gear on him so that they didn’t look so menacing. Maybe a future model will eat soup with a knife.
On the other hand, GUSS’ eyes aren’t so great and it gets tired fast. “You’d kick up dust in front of it and for some reason the sensors would look at that cloud of dust as a wall,” Sergeant Benjamin Johns tells Jean. “And it’ll stop for anywhere from one to five minutes.”
Kind of a big design flaw, albeit one that flows from an understandable reason. According to our friend David Axe, who checked in on GUSS in July, when GUSS is in full autonomous mode, it doesn’t rely on GPS to get from place to place, thereby avoiding roadblocks or other travel pitfalls that GPS guidance can’t foresee. Its sensors follow Marines as they go on missions, meaning it’s got to go off-road when the Marines do, another thing that occasionally foils GPS. Alas, GUSS’ sensors have to be able to tell the difference between dust and brick if it’s to be useful.
As Axe notes, the Army backed away from using a robo-mule after wasting millions building models that couldn’t handle rugged terrain. And GUSS wouldn’t be the Corps’ first unsuccessful experiment with robots: its gun-toting Gladiator never made it past the testing stage. GUSS is a some unknown time away from being sent into action, so tests and future upgrades will have to determine whether the Marines are finally going to get their own robot pals.
Citizens of Nevada, you can now relax. The Nevada National Security Site, home to tens of millions of cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste — and location of over a thousand Cold War nuclear weapons tests — is now being guarded by robots. The first of a planned trio of Mobile Detection Assessment Response Systems, or MDARS, is currently patrolling some of the more remote sections of the 1,360 square mile facility.
The camera-equipped MDARS can scoot around pre-determined paths on its own, alerting flesh-and-blood guards when it encounters an intruder or a broken lock. In development by the Navy and General Dynamics since the early 1990s, the diesel-fueled sentry bot can operate for up to 16 hours, and reach a top speed of 20 mph. The U.S. military has experimented with using the MDARS machines to patrol some of its Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada. The bots have even been tested with automatic weapons — though I doubt that’s the plan at the nuke site.
The Nevada complex, about 65 miles away from Las Vegas, is best known for its iconic nuclear weapons test-shots. Today, it boasts locations to conduct “controlled chemical releases in the open environment to simulate emissions from nuclear weapons production plants,” according to the NNSS website. And the place hosts the “Big Explosive Experimental Facility” — BEEF, for short. It’s “currently used for weapons physics experiments and shaped charge development.”
Going robo at the Nevada site is a cost-cutting move, the National Nuclear Security Administration claims. Using the MDARS will save about “$6 million in infrastructure investments for equipment such as cameras, towers, lights, trenching and burial of cables to support towers and motion detection units to support protection of remote sensitive areas,” according to an administration statement. “Additionally, the robots will result in an annual cost avoidance of $1 million in protective force expenditures and equipment maintenance.” So rest easy, Nevadans. Not only are your mechanical guardians keeping you safe. They’re making sure your tax dollars are well spent, too.