Recent combat operations have continually demonstrated the vulnerability of convoys due to their fundamental requirement for delivering sustainment supplies over long distances of unsecured routes. This operational reality of convoy missions makes them particularly vulnerable to attack and ambush. According to US DOD 52 percent of all battlefield casualties are caused when soldiers are delivering fuel, food or other supplies.
Autonomy is a key technology, critical to the future fleet of fighting vehicles. Keeping soldiers safe continues to be the main reason the military enlists unmanned vehicles into its ranks, when driving into a combat zone especially for resupply missions. Driverless technology could reduce the risk of injury or death for convoys traveling through territory with hidden roadside bombs, reducing the number of casualties associated with ground resupply missions. The Army believes the self-driving vehicles could be ideal during humanitarian relief missions in a natural disaster or for resupplying troops in the field, recognizing opportunities for cost savings and fewer crashes.
Carmakers and tech companies are very heavily focused on the driverless vehicles. Some of the world’s largest car manufacturers and technology companies are competing to tap into what could be a $7-trillion revenue stream. Of course, industry talking points emphasize something besides money: safety. Many fatal road-traffic accidents are caused by errors people make when distracted by, for instance, texting, drinking or napping while driving. Self-driving technology promises to fix this. However, migrating the commercial driverless cars technology to autonomous military vehicles have additional challenges due to battlefield environment of dust, interference, obstacles and threats.
Rise in Military Robotic and Autonomous Systems (RAS)
The Army RAS Strategy describes it as ‘the application of software, artificial intelligence and advanced robotics to perform tasks as directed by humans’. Likewise, it has also been described by Paul Scharre as ‘a machine, whether hardware or software, that, once activated, performs some task or function on its own’.
The key is that a RAS can be physical or non-physical and that it fulfils a function without requiring human input. Levels of autonomy and functionality are variable, with graduated levels of human input or supervision. This ranges from remote control, which is how the military traditionally uses Uncrewed Air Systems (UAS), to semiautonomous systems where relatively simple inputs enable control, to full autonomy. Full autonomy is currently employed in some manufacturing processes and in the mining sector, where humans merely supervise autonomous dump trucks from thousands of kilometres away.
The potential for RAS to benefit logistics has been highlighted in the UK, where it has been identified that ‘[s]ustainment will be improved … by improved stock and platform monitoring and anticipation; but also by automated logistic delivery’. It is helpful to note that logistic systems are configured to overcome two key problems—time and volume. The requirement to have the correct commodity, in the right quantity, at the right place and in a timely manner drives the logistic structure to support an operation.
There is an opportunity to address time and volumetric limitations through significantly enhanced logistic situation awareness, monitoring and artificial intelligence (AI) assisted decision-making. This would require more than simply an enhanced recognised logistic picture; rather, it would require a system that fuses logistic information, real-time usage monitoring and an understanding of future intentions. Such a system would be able to not only identify what is needed and where but also recommend, plan, and deliver the commodity in a timely manner. This would reduce stock waste and avoid unnecessary logistic movement.
Robotic and Autonomous Systems (RAS) highlights the physical (robotic) and cognitive (autonomous) aspects of these systems. RAS offers the possibility of a wide range of platforms—not just weapon systems—that can perform “dull, dangerous, and dirty” tasks—potentially reducing the risks to soldiers and possibly resulting in a generation of less expensive ground systems.
China is attempting to become the world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030. Artificial intelligence is a national priority in China, whose government has established an Artificial Intelligence Innovative Platform. China’s military is already using some artificial intelligence technology, including the use of drones and military robotics that feature extensive autonomous capabilities.
In recent years, the Russian military has achieved major breakthroughs in the development of unmanned systems. Russian investments in artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies will help their soldiers counter the physical, cognitive, and operational challenges of urban warfare and perform better in future conflicts. In fact, Russia’s Military Industrial Committee has approved plans to derive 30% of Russia’s combat power from remote-controlled systems and platforms enabled by artificial intelligence by 2030.
Russia is currently working on two tank-like combat systems referred to as Shturm (Storm) and Soratnik (Ally). According to the Russian defense manufacturer Kalashnikov, “Robot tanks do not need crews. Robots without human intervention will detect enemy weapons, destroy them, and issue target designations.” This certainly indicates Russia’s intent to develop unmanned combat systems without need for a human in the decision loop. The US Army Robotic and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Strategy describes how the Army will integrate new technologies into future organizations to help ensure overmatch against increasingly capable enemies.
US Army Operating Concept: An Autonomy-Enabled Future Force
The application of emerging technology creates the potential for affordable, interoperable, autonomous, and semi-autonomous systems that improve the effectiveness of Soldiers and units. Autonomy-enabled systems will deploy as force multipliers at all echelons from the squad to the brigade combat teams. Future robotic technologies and unmanned ground systems (UGS) will augment Soldiers and increase unit capabilities, situational awareness, mobility, and speed of action. Artificial intelligence will enable the deployment of autonomous and semi-autonomous systems with the ability to learn. Decision aids will reduce the cognitive burden and help leaders make rapid decisions.
Artificial intelligence may allow robots and automated systems to act with increased autonomy. Robotics will enable the future force by making forces more effective across wider areas, contributing to force protection, and providing increased capabilities to maintain overmatch. “We’re trying to protect our soldiers. We wanted to provide them the greatest amount of stand-off distance from whatever the danger is,” Thiesen said. Paul D. Rogers, director of the TARDEC program, noted that many attacks on soldiers occur along resupply routes, and autonomous capability would require fewer soldiers to be in the vehicle, lessening exposure.
“That not only lessens the risk for the soldier, but we can move the same amount of material, equipment and supplies with fewer soldiers, so we become much more efficient,” Rogers said. Manpower is a major expense in the military, including drivers who always travel with a backup, “safety” driver who is present in case the main driver gets injured or fatigued. “Anything we can do to take some of that cognitive burden off the driver, to reduce the need for a second driver for safety reasons, lessens the number of people we need in a vehicle, which means the less number of people can do the same amount of work,” Rogers said. “These are disruptive ideas and capabilities,” said Rogers, meaning there’s a lot more to it than ensuring the autonomous vehicles are safe and efficient. They are disruptive in the sense that the technology could actually change the way Soldiers fight and train.
Autonomous vehicles also offer potential, especially for the land environment. One of the limiting factors in the logistic system is the ability to keep delivery assets moving. Trucks are often crewed by two personnel in order to maximise how long the truck can operate and survive in the environment. Many nations do not crew beyond that; therefore there is a limitation on the time for which a delivery asset can be moving freight. Of course in times of crisis, truck operators could be required to continue well beyond what might be deemed safe in peacetime.
However, assuming a two-person crew, it can be concluded that a truck is only operating at 75 per cent capacity as it is immobile for six hours a day.The corollary is that is that Army needs 25 per cent more trucks in the fleet to mitigate this downtime.
A RAS leader-follower capability offers very significant logistic opportunity, since it requires only the lead platform to be crewed, while the followers are uncrewed and autonomous. If the lead vehicle can carry multiple passengers—for example, a Bushmaster—this enables continuous crew rotation. Consequently, apart from refuelling, the platforms can operate constantly for as long as the maintenance allows—conceivably up to 10 days. This approach offers at least a 25 per cent increase in the volumetrics of what can be moved without growing the workforce.
Furthermore, future cargo vehicles designed as followers do not require a cab for the crew—further increasing the load carriage capability by between 1,000 and 5,000 kilograms depending on truck type. The Australian Army has begun to experiment with a sovereign leader-follower capability through a research agreement with Deakin University and will test this hypothesis over the next few years, including on civilian roads.
Autonomous ground transport also addresses some of the risk associated with operating in the land domain by automating delivery. Resupply is a critical vulnerability of a deployed force, and reliance on land lines of communication has been a vulnerability since ancient times. It has been reported that a little over half of US military casualties in Iraq occurred from attacks on land transport.
The US Army has an ambitious autonomous truck program and intends to have 300 deployed by 2025 that will operate in high-threat environments. The UK is also participating in the program but has a different concept of employment. Based on experiences in Helmand province in Afghanistan, the UK is less convinced about the capability of autonomous trucks to deal with the uncertainty associated with complex environments. Instead it sees autonomous trucks being employed on longer duration, less demanding resupply roles, thus freeing human workforce for the tactically complex.
Army units conduct convoy operations with a range of vehicles, including large tactical vehicles, medium tactical vehicles, and civilian local-national trucks. To date, the Army research and development activities have tested two main automated convoy concepts. RAND report calls it the fully autonomous (FA) employment concept, which consists of all the cargo vehicles in the convoy being unmanned and driven autonomously. In this concept, all soldiers are removed from the convoy cargo trucks. A remote control station is used to monitor the autonomous driving and manually drive the truck in situations that the automation is unable to manage. Although this unmanned concept is the ideal, the technology is under development, and it may be some time before driverless tactical vehicles can navigate the hazards and obstacles, including road intersections, traffic, pedestrians, and wartime adversaries and threats, in both rural and urban settings.
Othe is the partially unmanned (PU) employment concept. In this concept, a palletized load system (PLS) truck is outfitted with an applique kit that allows two soldiers driving a “leader” PLS truck to establish a path for completely unmanned “follower” PLS trucks.
Challenges of Autonomous Ground Navigation
A number of challenges are associated with the military adopting RAS technologies. There are risks such as networking, vulnerabilities to cyber-attack, and uncertainties about the ability of delivery systems to perform in all weathers, day and night and against a range of threats.
Convoy operations are complex under optimal conditions. However, tactical convoy execution can present a particularly vexing set of challenges for Army units. There will be different mixtures of physical terrain, built terrain, and local populace. Convoys must cover extensive distances of unprotected routes. Also, convoys often span more than one of the route types described.
RAND report found following technical risks
Sensors/data fusion: Inability of sensors/software to correctly interpret and react in complex driving environments. Automated technology ability to correctly perceive and react to hazards remains a major technical risk
Sustainment/maintenance: Inadequate sustainment funds may prevent necessary software upgrades. Inadequate sustainment funds may limit the software and hardware upgrades necessary to improve capabilities .
Safety/testing: Impossible to test LF with confidence that it will meet current safety and performance requirements. Millions of miles required for adequate testing, unlikely to occur in development.
Cyber: Inadequate cyber mitigation strategies in architecture may increase vulnerabilities and costs to sustain. Jamming of communication and GPS likely will require convoy to stop and reload drivers from other vehicles .
Communications: Intermittent or lack of communication between leader and followers will cause instability in followers. When communication between the leader truck and the follower vehicles is compromised, disturbances and errors are amplified, and following becomes unstable. Maintaining conformity to prescribed path has technical and safety issues. Most important, communications are critical in conflict situations. Breakdowns in communications could leave trucks idle in the kill zone, a situation to be avoided. In past conflicts, lack of communications has resulted in trucks being left in the kill zone for extended periods
Convoy integrity: Default conformity to following of the leader’s path may cause unintended accidents due to degraded driving surface. Cyberattacks may go unnoticed until significant issue occurs
Human-to-machine interface (HMI): Ineffective HMI will not allow soldiers to safely and effectively manage automated vehicles. Need to design commander control device (CCD) to help increase awareness and decrease cognitive load of leader TC
The navigation for driverless cars is much more difficult than say UAVs. Cars not only need similar mapping abilities, but they must also understand where all nearby vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists are, and where all these are going in the next few seconds. Driverless cars (and some drones) do this through a combination of sensors like LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), traditional radars, and stereoscopic computer vision. Thus the world model of a driverless car is much more advanced than that of a typical UAV, reflecting the complexity of the operating environment. A driverless car computer is required to track all the dynamics of all nearby vehicles and obstacles, constantly compute all possible points of intersection, and then estimate how it thinks traffic is going to behave in order to make a decision to act.
One of the greatest difficulties faced by automated vehicles is their ability to correctly perceive and react to the nearly infinite driving scenarios they may face. The sheer complexity of the potential driving scenarios becomes nearly technically infeasible for the sensor and
software technology available. In an effort to develop viable automated vehicles to meet this challenge, commercial companies are limiting the driving environments and/or using human operators as a level of robustness and a necessary component for the continual technology
The combat environment has many more features that the automated truck system must account for. These include challenges related to topography (desert, jungle, forest), weather (arid, snow/ice, rain), infrastructure (road surfaces, lane widths, proximity of buildings), obstacles (pedestrian attire/ behavior, bicycle density, traffic flow/behavior, types of animals), and, of course, adversary intent and capabilities (sensor spoofing, cyberattack, kinetic attack).
Overcoming the challenges of tactical cross-country autonomous navigation (e.g., avoiding obstacles such as barbed wire, minefields, and antitank ditches) and using terrain to shield military vehicles from detection and engagement by direct-fire weapons remains, for the foreseeable future, a crucial developmental challenge for both U.S. and foreign ground forces.
Engineer Bernard Theisen of the U.S. Army CCDC Ground Vehicle Systems Center in Warren, Mich., says the U.S. military faces challenges similar to those of commercial developers when it comes to autonomous vehicles. “The biggest challenge deals with perceiving the world and then processing the data,” he said. “For example, most humans take their driver’s test when they’re 16 or 18 years old, which is like 16 to 18 years of learning how vehicles and driving rules work. Now, we’re trying to program a robot to take in all that information and figure it out. What happens is you end up with these edge cases or corner cases that the robot doesn’t know how to handle, resulting in system failure. “This is a significant thing that humans can do,” Theisen said. “When we’re engaged in a situation we don’t understand, we usually build our own solution.”
“Unlike the commercial sector, we have to develop systems that can manoeuvre off-road, that can manoeuvre in all elements…. that can navigate obstacles, whether they be trees or gullies or rocks or whatever they may be,” US Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper said. Earlier, Michael Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering had claimed that United States Army will have self-driving vehicles operating on the battlefield long before they’re on U.S. streets and highways, “But the core technologies will be the same.”
Another challenge that the U.S. military faces deals with testing vehicles and getting them to successfully adapt to changing environments. Theisen said the military will conduct tests in snow and ice, but it must first let the robot know that it’s in snow and ice mode.
Robots rely on algorithm planners developed by humans. But if they encounter a situation not covered by the algorithm, they won’t know what to do. For example, Theisen said, a self-driving car doesn’t know how to react to a person in a wheelchair trying to chase ducks off a road. “Right now, the intelligence is just not there for robots to smartly select between planners,” Theisen said.
A bigger challenge is cultural inertia. Theo Farrell states that ‘military organizations, as socially conservative and closed communities (not unlike religious orders), are especially disinclined to innovate. This is to be expected, as often technology is disruptive; it challenges our worldview and therefore potentially destabilises the status quo internally. It also poses a risk that, if realised, could mean a military fails in the next war.
Automated vehicles use a variety of sensors to perceive the driving environment. Common sensors used include radar; optic cameras; and light detection and ranging (LIDAR) sensors, which are laser-based. Currently, many luxury passenger vehicles are equipped with radar and optic sensors to provide semiautomated features, such as lane-keeping and automated cruise control. Industrial vehicles, such as mining equipment, will also include the more expensive LIDAR sensor in their sensor suite. Army will most likely need to develop more-advanced software to perceive and react appropriately to the many additional complexities in the combat environment.
Convoy execution : Number of following vehicles, gap distance, and alignment, Follower vehicles trace path of leader vehicle. The follower truck in the Army convoy is required to follow the path provided by the leader truck with a certain amount of longitudinal and lateral precision.
HMI : Commander’s control device to manage the order of march and situational awareness of following trucks. Human-factors experimentation with automated systems shows that the HMI design must have effective multimodal alarms, ideal placement of equipment required to support secondary tasks, welltrained operators, and operators with high working memory capacity. However, the need to maintain vigilance for hazards and threats provides a natural mechanism to keep the soldier operator engaged in monitoring the outside environment.
Obstacle avoidance and reassemble: Capabilities to decelerate or avoid obstacles, Capabilities to align to new leader or serial
Sustainment and maintenance: Ability to sustain operations with minimal interruption due to failures and repairs, Ability to restore automated functionality in timely manner. The installation of an applique kit will increase the complexity of the vehicle, requiring sufficient sustainment funding to manage software updates and mechanics with additional skill sets and competency.
Interoperability : Ability to incrementally improve capabilities with next-generation sensors and new software updates
Communications: Fully autonomous vehicles will require more than line-of-sight communications and navigation. If an automated truck is following a leader truck in a crowded urban area, and the leader truck makes a turn and is obscured by buildings, the following truck might come to a complete halt if it has lost its line-of-sight communications link. This could create problems for the following trucks in the convoy, causing them to halt also, if they are operating autonomously. The Army’s use of radios and radio frequencies that are commonly available is convenient but presents the risk of enemy interference. Frequency agility in radios is very important to defeat enemy interference.
Protection systems : Systems to protect against cyber and electronic warfare threats. One method to protect against the cyber threat is to
design the system so that it is isolated or air-gapped. However, this approach creates potential programmatic risks of schedule delays and
cost overruns if the automated system is unable to operate when off the network. Other systems that may be useful to the automated
system, such as vehicle metadata collection agents and diagnostic sensors, are useful in identifying anomalous conditions that could imply
cyberattacks. However, it may be challenging to collect and act on this data in real time on board the vehicle. It is likely that for this information to be useful, it will need to be shunted into the Army cloud for analysis and alerting of proper stakeholders. If these issues are realized late in the program, schedule delays and cost increases may result from the need to incorporate new information assurance requirements into the automated system.
Safety and testing : Aggregate of safety systems to ensure the safe transport of all types of loads and configurations. The sheer complexity of driving environments and scenarios in which the automated system will need to operate will tax even the best-resourced testing program. Furthermore, the Army will need to ensure that it has sufficient technical capabilities and test facilities to test the software complexities of automated systems.
US Army’s Leader-Follower Technology
At the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, roadside bombs planted by insurgents maimed and killed servicemembers and civilians alike, targeting vehicle convoys ferrying troops and supplies to bases.
To deal with the threat more immediately, the military invested billions of dollars into uparmored, mine-resistant vehicles that could withstand blasts better. At the same time, it kicked off an ongoing, long-term effort to build autonomous “leader-follow” tech that could cut down on the number of soldiers in harm’s way in future fights as well as free up troops for other tasks.
The Army’s Leader-Follower Technology for Tactical Wheeled Vehicles (TWVs) effort revolves around a suite of sensors and vehicle upgrades intended to provide TWVs the capability of linking three unmanned vehicles to a single manned vehicle during the conduct of logistics road convoy operations. This effort is intended to reduce the number of soldiers required to operate a convoy, thereby reducing the number of exposed soldiers to risk of injury from attack.
Humans don’t have the reaction time to allow short distance platooning. When you can have sensors and computers controlling that to allow trucks to follow close and draft, so you get fuel savings and those fuel savings are a benefit to the economy and the environment,” said Dr. David Bevly, Director of Auburn University’s GPS & Vehicle Lab.
Truck platooning links two or more trucks using vehicle-to-vehicle wireless communications technology and sensors that allow them to maintain a set, close distance between each other automatically.
Engineers from Auburn University, Alabama, US have developed a system to platoon vehicles at a very close space for fuel benefits. Truck platooning links two or more trucks using vehicle-to-vehicle wireless communications technology and sensors that allow them to maintain a set, close distance between each other automatically. Truck platooning generates tremendous returns in terms of increased fuel efficiencies, decreased traffic congestion and improved safety for both commercial and military applications.
The state’s Department of Transportation partnered with Kratos Defense & Security Solutions , Pennsylvania-based Royal Truck & Equipment and British engineering firm Colas UK to create the Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle (AIPV), which officials say is the first driverless construction truck to be put into action.
San Diego-based Kratos created the technology for the U.S. Army, which is turning to driverless vehicles for dangerous missions like mine clearance. Kratos has developed the leader-follower concept for tactical convoy operations. The lead vehicle, which has a driver, sends data to trailing vehicles, which use the information to mimic the lead vehicle’s path. Kratos has also utilizes leader-follower in its unmanned aerial systems, which rely on similar algorithms and software controls. Kratos has brought the technology to the commercial market in the form of self-driving impact attenuators—known as “crash trucks”—that follow construction crews to protect workers near busy roadways.
The Army has been working on autonomous military vehicles since 1999, said Maj. Benjamin Hormann, expedient leader-follower project officer at Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center. Some of the platforms the technology has been tested on includes Humvees, HX60 tactical trucks, RG-31 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, medium tactical vehicle replacement systems, M915 tractor trucks, medium tactical vehicles, LMTV light utility trucks and heavy equipment transporters.
More recently, the autonomy hardware and software systems developed through the Ground Vehicle Systems Center include the palletized load system, the cold weather all-terrain vehicle, the high mobility artillery rocket system as well as the Marine Corps’ logistics vehicle system replacement platform and the Corps’ Joint Light Tactical Vehicle Rouge Fires variant, Hormann said.
US Army’s Autonomy Demonstrations
In Oct 2017, Auburn University and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) conducted a live demonstration of autonomous vehicle technology traveling across the border between the U.S. and Canada. The capabilities of truck platoons were showcased traveling down Interstate 69, going east across the Blue Water Bridge connecting Port Huron with Ontario before returning to the U.S.
Although the vehicles used in the trial were flatbed military trucks, the technology could also be rolled out for tanks and armoured vehicles. This new technology is capable of making almost every military vehicle an optionally-manned vehicle. As far as removing the assistant driver, “I believe we can do that now with the autonomous capability that we’ll be integrating into our vehicle systems,” according to Rogers. “It’s a mature capability that is ready to go into a program of record and could be fielded in the 2025 timeframe.
Automated convoys will bring about a dramatic change in the way the Army conducts its combat logistics operations. Jose Gonzalez, deputy assistant secretary of defense for tactical warfare systems, said the Defense Department is also working on an overarching unmanned systems roadmap, which will be the first that the department has released since 2013. The document focuses on the need to develop interoperability among systems, secure networks and develop human-machine collaboration, Gonzalez said.
The military helped jump-start today’s commercial AV efforts, most notably through competitions in 2004, 2005 and 2007 sponsored by its r&d arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. One of the most memorable DARPA entries was a behemoth called TerraMax, a driverless ground vehicle designed by Oshkosh Trucks, now Oshkosh Defense. Oshkosh Defense has sidelined its efforts around TerraMax technologies in favor of the Army’s new autonomous initiative called Expedient Leader-Follower. Expedient Leader-Follower is a program where convoys are assembled that consist of one vehicle with a driver followed by driverless vehicles. It’s part of the larger Autonomous Resupply Program at the U.S. Army CCDC Ground Vehicle Systems Center. Theisen, who manages the Expedient Leader-Follower program, says the primary purpose of autonomous technology in convoys is to reduce the number of people operating tactical vehicles and limit exposure time to a potential attack.
In June 2016, US Army test-drove a convoy of four trucks equipped with self-driving technology on a highway in Michigan. The four beta trucks drove together over seven miles, using cameras and LIDAR to watch the road. They used dedicated short-range radio, also known as vehicle-to-vehicle communication, to continuously relay their positions, speed, and other information with each other and even with infrastructure Michigan’s DOT installed for the purpose, getting advance notice of things like changing speed limits and closed lanes ahead.
In 10 to 15 years, Army engineers say, fully autonomous truck convoys will be ready to serve in conflict zones. The reasoning’s obvious: “We do want to get soldiers out of the convoy vehicles, in case they could be on roads with IEDs,” says Alex Kade, who helps direct the Army center’s research in ground vehicle robotics. Robo-trucks could hump supplies around bases, or resupply soldiers at far-flung outposts.
The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center’s 30-Year Ground Vehicle Strategy “introduces scalable autonomy that will serve as a force multiplier and augment the capabilities of Soldiers,” said Dr. Paul D. Rogers, director of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, known as TARDEC.
In Oct 2017 demonstration, Auburn’s two Peterbilt 579 trucks led the mixed convoy of commercial and military trucks using platooning software that Bevly’s research group developed and implemented throughout the convoy. Auburn’s work on GPS and radar sensor fusion also allowed the convoy to maintain a set distance between each truck. The autonomy software utilizes GPS and other on-board vehicle data shared over Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) radios in conjunction with radar measurements to allow the convoy to maintain a set distance between each truck.
The Army’s vehicles in the convoy, two M915 “line haul” tractors, carried flatbed trailers loaded with cargo containers. Each of the trucks are equipped with TARDEC’s Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System technology. That technology gives the trucks a full range of autonomous capabilities, from driver-warning features to fully-autonomous operation. All this enables the vehicle to be guided along a path using pre-programmed waypoints.
On display at this demonstration are the vehicle’s automated acceleration and deceleration features, which allow the vehicle to adjust its speed and braking with respect to instructions passed back to it from the lead vehicle. Additionally, the Army’s trucks are enabling the automated steering feature. With this capability, the truck’s computer receives information from the lead vehicles and steers the truck accordingly. This is the first time the Army has tested this capability on a public roadway, says Theisen. “Auburn University and TARDEC researchers are advancing this technology to the point where it is ready for commercial and military uses,” said David Bevly, director of Auburn University’s GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory and professor of mechanical engineering. “Today’s live demonstration under real-world traffic conditions highlights just how far this paradigm changing technology has come.”
In demonstrations at Fort Hood, Texas in January 2014, the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) and Lockheed Martin have already demonstrated the ability of fully autonomous convoys to operate in urban environments with multiple vehicles of different models. In June 2017, Army tested the trucks in automated mode along the Blue Water Bridge in Michigan. ‘You’re crossing a steel girder bridge and you look for the different radar reflections, whether or not your system gets confused or not,’ Mr Rogers said.
Under an initial $11 million contract in 2012, Lockheed Martin developed a multi-platform kit that integrates low-cost sensors and control systems with Army and Marine tactical vehicles to enable autonomous operation in convoys. According to Lockheed, Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System also gives drivers an automated option to alert, stop and adjust, or take full control under user supervision. The first Capabilities Advancement Demonstration (CAD-1) series of tests, simulated driverless tactical vehicles navigating hazards and obstacles such as road intersections, oncoming traffic, stalled and passing vehicles, pedestrians and traffic circles in both urban and rural test areas.
In the CAD-2 demonstration, AMAS completed a series of fully autonomous convoy tests involving a completely unmanned leader vehicle followed by a convoy of up to six additional follower vehicles (also fully autonomous) operating at speeds as high as 40 mph. In Second Series of Advanced Autonomous Convoy Demonstrations successfully validated the ability of driverless military-truck convoys to operate successfully and safely in a variety of environments. Vehicles used in the CAD-2 demonstration included one Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) truck, one Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR) vehicle, two Palletized Load System trucks, two M915 Line-Haul Tractors and one Heavy Equipment Transport.
These shall be followed by safety testing and Operational Demonstrations, during which time Soldiers and Marines will assess the system benefits in realistic convoy operations. There are challenges ahead like recognising and avoiding range of obstacles from rocks and craters to mines and IEDs , navigate through areas without communications infrastructure as well as signs and markings.
This is where the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command is helping out by re-examining its doctrine, tactics and training so that when these technologies are fielded, they can work in the context of the broader national strategic objectives as well as at the tactical levels, he said. TARDEC is not the only company experimenting with autonomous trucks. Daimler, Peloton Technology and Otto, who recently completed their first fully autonomous commercial delivery, are working in this space too.
Final increment of capability improvements
The Army showed off its expedient leader-follower technology at the service’s Project Convergence exercise at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. The annual experiment has been called a “campaign of learning” by officials and is meant to contribute to the Pentagon’s JADC2 effort, which aims to better link sensors and platforms into an operating network.
At Project Convergence, officials employed two versions of its autonomy software and completed more than 3,000 miles of robotics testing, Hormann said. The autonomy system was tested on palletized load system trucks, the cold weather all-terrain vehicle and the logistics vehicle system replacement platform.
The Army plans to test leader-follower technology at Project Convergence 2022 with an autonomous missile launcher demonstrator as part of an effort with Army Futures Command’s long-range precision fires cross-functional team and DEVCOM’s Aviation and Missile Center, Hormann said.
Meanwhile, the service recently completed the final increment of capability improvements for its expedient leader-follower program, he said. For example, the service merged existing autonomy software with a government-owned Robotic Technology Kernel, he said. RTK is the Army’s library of modular software packages that can be used for common ground autonomy software. The software is based on what is known as the Robotic Open System Architecture-Military.
The most recent increment also developed a feature known as “assembly and disassembly” where autonomous PLS trucks could form into a column formation based on orders from a user, as well as “park” the platforms into a line, whether it be from front-to-back or side-to-side, he added.
Another new capability is a “retrotraverse” feature with trailers, which allows the PLS vehicle to reverse and employs what Hormann called a “pin-and-pin-out function.”
This capability allows “the warfighter to back up an autonomous convoy with a trailer without having to get out and put the trailer traversing table locking pin in,” he explained.
Coming up next for the leader-follower program is Army Test and Evaluation Command safety testing for maturation of its software version 2.0 system.
Over the next two years, the 41st Transportation Company is set to participate in three Collective Training Center exercises with leader-follower technology, Hormann added.
Australian Army’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems Technologies
The recently established Robotic and Autonomous Systems Implementation Office (RICO) is responsible for pursuing Army’s interests in Robotic and Autonomous Systems (RAS) / Artificial Intelligence (AI) and disruptive technologies and ethically leverage them to gain asymmetric advantage in the future operating environment. Two M113 AS4s were converted to include: manual control, tele-operation, autonomous waypoint navigation, and follow the leader capabilities. The two OCCVs were demonstrated in Canberra on 31 October 2019 in cooperation with Unmanned Aerial Systems and other ground robots in an enemy clear.
Two medium trucks have been converted to optionally crewed with a university partner, to operate in manual, tele-operation, leader follower and GPS waypoint navigation modes. This conversion includes a collision avoidance feature which detects mobile and static obstacles and machine learning to manoeuvre around the obstacle.
User Interface: Different user interfaces have been experimented, with operator feedback measured. Most interfaces include control stations which extend the generic architecture features in existing remote control systems or game consoles to reduce user training and increase familiarity.
Platform Actuation: Autonomous control involves the instillation of actuators to manually manipulate mechanisms installed onto the converted platforms. Combined with computer aided programming, the platform can be controlled by an external operator.
Human-Machine Teaming: The RAS Strategy identifies five fields, including efficiency, force protection, generating scalable effects, improved decision making and improving soldier performance. Experimentation across multiple platforms (OCCV, UGV, quadrupeds, Medium trucks) has considered how humans and machines can combine to achieve team effects.
User Experimentation: UGVs and quadruped (robotic dogs) have participated in experimentation with soldiers to gain insights into potential application and functionality.
UGV Trials: Uncrewed Ground Vehicles (UGVs) were experimented with over multiple activities with combat and logistic soldiers to gain insights into potential future applications.
Deakin University’s Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI) will explore new possibilities for autonomous vehicles in the military as part of a $3.5 million agreement with the Australian Army. The second phase will see IISRI expand the research and prototype the technology it developed during the first phase.
“The technology we have developed so far is vehicle-agnostic,” IISRI Director Professor Saeid Nahavandi told create. “We have developed a chip, and you can put it in large trucks and give autonomy and semi-autonomous and semi-operation capabilities.” Nahavandi said the size of the vehicles that the military uses, and the off-road uses to which they are put, makes the task of designing autonomous technology a distinct one. “Driving this vehicle is really different from your normal passenger vehicle,” he said. “The way you need to control it — all of the safety features, extra hazards, complexities, and in terms of turning-points, mobility and safety, there’s a level of complexity.”
“To have a system which can deal with all kinds of scenarios, all kinds of weather conditions and all kinds of terrain … is often challenging,” he said. “It is more complex than driving your vehicle in a highly structured environment.” He also highlighted the adaptability of the technology. “Once delivered to our military, then it can easily be deployed to other sectors,” Nahavandi said. “The technology can be used for the mining industry; it can be used in the agricultural industry … and obviously for transportation for cities.”
US Army’s automated technology programme Autonomous Ground Resupply (AGR)
The AGR technology, which is expected to become the de-facto autonomous architecture for future ground robotic vehicles, will provide the vehicles with the capability to operate unmanned, thereby freeing up soldiers. The ExLF programme is built on progress demonstrated during the Autonomous Mobility Applique Systems (AMAS) Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) and AGR programmes.
Aimed at developing unmanned prototype systems to address the needs of the Leader Follower Directed Requirement and Program of Record, ExLF will equip the existing military ground vehicles with scalable autonomy technology and carry out an Operational Technical Demonstration (OTD). Through the OTD, the ExLF programme will showcase the integration of modular kits, common interfaces and a scalable open architecture.
Robotic Research has received a three-year contract to deliver autonomy kits for the US Army’s large convoy resupply vehicles as part of the Expedient Leader Follower (ExLF) programme. Valued at $49.7m, the contract seeks to develop and integrate autonomy kits for the army’s additional vehicles such as the Oshkosh PLS A1s as part of efforts to extend the scope of the US Army’s automated technology programme Autonomous Ground Resupply (AGR).
Army has accelerated its Automated Ground Resupply (AGR) program by spinning off something called the Expedient Leader-Follower demonstration. Contractors are currently installing Robotic Research LLC’s computer brains and sensors on 10 Oshkosh M1075 PLS (Palletized Loader System) trucks that’ll be used for safety certification tests in 2019. They’ll convert 60 more to self-driving vehicles in time to equip two Army transportation companies in 2020.
While the two units’ main job will be to demonstrate the technology works in field conditions, “if they get called to deploy, they will deploy with the vehicles,” said Alberto Lacaze, president of Robotic Research, in an interview with me yesterday. “That could happen fairly quickly.”
Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System
The Autonomous Mobility Applique System (AMAS) provides a low-cost/low-risk, kit-based solution to retrofit active safety, semi-autonomy and autonomy capability onto any vehicle in the military’s logistics fleet. AMAS offers Driver Warning/Driver Assist functionality, Leader-Follower convoy operations, Waypoint following capabilities and provides growth to fully autonomous operations.
The AMAS Driver Warning/Driver Assist mode assists a driver in tasks such as avoiding obstacles/collisions, maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle ahead and maintaining position in a driving lane. Convoy operations can be both tiring and stressful, so implementing a driver-assist system that is capable of providing for the basic continued operation of the vehicle removes that stress from the soldier/driver and allows them to be more vigilant of their surroundings. The AMAS Leader-Follower mode provides capability to link a large number of vehicles together as a cohesive convoy so the follower vehicles can operate without a person in the driver’s seat. Ultimately, AMAS allows soldiers to be soldiers, not truck drivers.
AMAS technology improves soldier safety and battlefield survivability for the Ground Distribution fleet using these autonomy and semi-autonomy capabilities to increase crew situational awareness and cognition while reducing vehicle collisions and driver fatigue. Reducing accidents results in saved lives and reduced injuries, reductions in loss of materiel and cargo, and reduced missed opportunity costs.
The AMAS hardware and software are designed to automate the driving task on current tactical vehicles. The Unmanned Mission Module part of AMAS, which includes a high performance LIDAR sensor, a second GPS receiver and additional algorithms, is installed as a kit and can be used on virtually any military vehicle. LIDAR system, or Light Detection and Ranging, looks for curves in the road and changes from pavement and gravel to grass and uses those to inform the platform where the road surface is and its expected travel path. The module is also fitted with a GPS receiver to plan, and track the convoy’s route
The second kit is the “by-wire drive,” which operates the basic driving functions of the platform such as acceleration, braking and steering. Both kits are designed in a modular fashion to allow for flexibility in the future as technology matures so that new capabilities can be added, Rogers pointed out.
AMAS technology improves soldier safety and battlefield survivability for the Ground Distribution fleet using these autonomy and semi-autonomy capabilities to increase crew situational awareness and cognition while reducing vehicle collisions and driver fatigue. Reducing accidents results in saved lives and reduced injuries, reductions in loss of materiel and cargo, and reduced missed opportunity costs.
TARDEC will be experimenting with manned and unmanned teaming so that maybe four manned Abrams tanks could team up with four that are unmanned. The unmanned tanks could perform screening operations to protect the flanks or could operate at point in front. It’s still a future concept that’s probably 20 years away, Rogers said.
Another exciting possibility is TARDEC’s exploration of manned or unmanned aircraft teaming up with unmanned ground vehicles. That development is a lot closer in time, he said, with demonstrations coming up at the end of this year and on into next. Rogers compared these manned-unmanned teaming systems to outdoorsmen who rely on their mules or hunting dogs for survival.
A third endeavor TARDEC is exploring is the use of unmanned helicopters to deliver unmanned ground vehicles into a dangerous environment that may not only contain extremists, but also an extremely unfriendly environment containing chemical, biological or radiological hazards.
“It’s no place you’d want to send a Soldier,” he said, adding that once those unmanned vehicles are dropped off, their sensors could immediately stream data about the environment via satellite or command link.
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