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ISSN 1416-300X Volume 13, Issue 2011

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By Julian Nettlefold

Whilst Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) continue to dominate the headlines, their cousin, the Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) continues to develop at a slower pace. However, BATTLESPACE saw a resurgence of interest in UGVs at Eurosatory with a number of new products on display including Marshall Land Systems, part of the 2008 Grand Challenge winning Team Stellar, Lockheed Martin and G-NIUS Unmanned Ground Systems Ltd.

Unmanned Ground Vehicles have been used for many years by the military for bomb disposal purposes, Northrop Grumman in particular has established a world-lead in development of these products. But recent events in the U.K. and USA have seen a growing awakening to the development of the UGV as one solution to meet growing demands to defeat the IED threat in Afghanistan.

Development of UGVs is a rapidly developing industry which will play a major role in future military operations. The applications of UGVs is vast, and their labour-saving - and indeed life-saving - functions can include reconnaissance, patrolling, and casualty evacuations. However, as the potential of UGVs develops, procurers will have a better idea of their own requirements and will demand an ever-increasing standard of UGV capability and technology.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) Seminar

To meet the growing demand for Unmanned Ground System technology the IMechE is putting on a new Unmanned Military Vehicles 1 Day Seminar, held at the Bristol Marriot Hotel on December 7th. The IMechE has organised this one-day seminar to examine the latest challenges facing UMV engineers and manufacturers as they seek to meet procurer’s requirements, and to also discuss ways in which UMVs can best be developed and deployed.

Speakers include: Robert Mohacsi, Senior Business Development Manager –Defence, MIRA, Hisham Awad, GCS Vehicles – Programme Manager, BAE Systems, Andy Wallace, Programme Manager, Marshall SDG, Lt Col Mark Adams, Assistant Team Leader, DE&S SPSCM Delivery Team, Kevin Rooney, Managing Director, Remotec UK/Northrop Grumman , Raglan Tribe, Managing Director, Amyas Godfrey, Business Development Manager, Thales and William Bardo, Technical Director, SEAS DTC

Robotics Rodeo

Having held the Grand Challenge in the USA since 2005, in 2009 the first Robotics Rodeo was held to view and interact with a long line-up of robot systems and to give feedback on which ones could potentially find a place in the U.S. Army's robotics stable.

The Robotics Rodeo was sponsored by the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) and by the U.S. Army's III Corps, headquartered here. The event was billed as a demonstration of technology that could be of benefit to the Army's robotics programs, and specifically its quest for unmanned ground systems.

Despite the hundreds of military robots that show up in concept or as prototypes on company Web sites and corporate reports, humans still do the fighting on the ground and it's likely to stay that way for a while. However, there's a growing niche for ‘the dirty, the dull, and the dangerous’ jobs where robots could take over. In fact, it's the law. The 2001 Senate defense authorization bill mandates that "one third of the operational ground combat vehicles of the armed forces will be unmanned by 2015."

The Army wants robotic researchers, developers, and manufactures, many of whom have collected millions in government seed money and grants over the years, to get off the dime and start delivering.

John Deere

John Deere demonstrated its R-Gator standalone, autonomous mule, which is based on its M-Gator model already in the field. Applications include reconnaissance, patrol, hauling supplies (up to 1,400 lbs.), casualty evacuation, and the "marsupial" capability--namely the ferrying and remote deployment of smaller, specialized robots.

The unit uses John Deere's NavCom technology, GPS, and an inertial navigation system to find its way around. Two laser range sensors detect obstacles up to 65 feet away in both tele-operation and autonomous mode.

The R model can navigate its way to a concealed location, turn its engine off, and then conduct surveillance until approached, recalled, or the batteries run out eight hours later, according to the Moline, Ill.-based company. John Deere staff were quick to point out that all the gear on this model is COTS, including the batteries.

The system can be operated via Windows-based laptop or vest-mounted control unit, along with a game controller, and that unit can display four video streams. It comes with mast-mounted pan/tilt/zoom-capable cameras and front- and rear-mounted drive cameras. Power comes from a compact 18-horsepower, overhead-valve, 3-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 4-cycle diesel.

Latterly the system was chosen to operate in Afghanistan under a contract placed with the Boeing/John Deere Team.

Lockheed Martin

Squad Mission Support System (SMSS)

In June 2010 Lockheed Martin recently proved in a series of demonstration tests that its SMSS can perform detailed logistics tasks without human control. The testing was conducted at the Lockheed Martin facility in Littleton, CO, for several military attendees. The SMSS vehicle performed all autonomous operations flawlessly, including:
* correctly following a road network,
* safely manoeuvring through a building complex,
* avoiding obstacles inserted in its path, including mannequins simulating people,
* following a person using only optical tracking, exercising real-time obstacle avoidance, and
* navigating to a person who issued a "come-to-me" command.
SMSS also demonstrated its ease of operability in real-time controller-to-controller hand-offs, allowing different operators to take control of the vehicle as it arrived at new locations. Operators also disengaged autonomy and went on board the vehicle to control it manually, showcasing user options in commanding the system.

"These demonstrations exemplify how the military can benefit from SMSS as an autonomous logistics vehicle to move parts, tools and materiel around fixed installations," said Don Nimblett, senior Business Development manager for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. "SMSS has proved through performance that our approach to autonomy is flexible and adaptable to a variety of platforms and missions. We've already proved the advantages SMSS can bring in the field through U.S. Army-funded Warfighter experiments. These recent trials showed how SMSS can perform in crowded, limited environments transporting tons of cargo."

Convoy Active Safety Technology (CAST) system

Another product is the Convoy Active Safety Technology (CAST) system, a new push-vehicle capability for its automated convoy program that will save lives in the fight against convoy ambush and IED attacks launched in May 2010. CAST enables convoy vehicles to autonomously follow each other, demonstrated the push-vehicle feature recently.  It allows the first vehicle to be driven autonomously, as compared to past system designs where the lead had to be under human control.

The autonomous push vehicle was developed to lead a convoy of semi-autonomous follower vehicles into hazardous areas without a human operator on board. Using the AutoMateTM sensor, actuator and processing kit, any tactical wheeled vehicle can quickly and easily convert into the push vehicle or perform as part of the convoy. Even in this role, the vehicle can maintain safe trajectories and interval distances on both developed and undeveloped roadways, avoid dynamic obstacles and operate at full speed in visually obstructed conditions such as dust or blackout night operations. Lockheed Martin tested CAST’s new capability this month in internal tests and is ready to demonstrate its life-saving features to Warfighters during user assessments.  Notably, CAST demonstrated its precision system during the Army’s Robotics Rodeo held last year at Fort Hood, TX. CAST is a development program for the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center. The affordable, simple, kit-based technology is not dependent on any platform and has logged more than 10,000 miles of operation.  Tests have proved CAST-enabled trucks can follow roads and other vehicles to eliminate rear-end collisions, reduce road departures and enable soldiers to respond to 25 percent more hostile threats and from greater distances.

G-NIUS Unmanned Ground Systems Ltd.

The G-NIUS’ Guardium™ UGV system was shown at Eurosatory. G-NIUS Unmanned Ground Systems Ltd., a jointly-owned company of Elbit Systems Ltd. and Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd., revealed that its AvantGuard® UGCV was recently delivered to the IDF. Based on the technological strength and capabilities of G-NIUS’ Guardium™ UGV system, as well as building on the Tactical Amphibious Ground Support (TAGS) vehicle excellent maneuverability in harsh terrain environments, the AvantGuard® UGCV significantly expands the applications envelope to encompass Counter IED (CIED) and ground maneuvering combat missions. Employing a set of modular payloads such as: Ground Penetrating Radar, Counter IED Jammer, Mini-Pop cooled thermal surveillance camera, Counter Human & Vehicle Detection Radar and more, and based on its inherent endurance, AvantGuard® can be effectively deployed in a variety of combat missions including: Counter IED, Advance Guard, Armed Sentry, Combat Logistic Support, CASEVAC and more. It is controlled by a mobile or portable Operational Control Unit(OCU), and can also operate in a Follow-me mode, where it is autonomously trailing a guide-foot soldier.

iRobot and Boeing

iRobot is the pioneer of the small PackBot robot used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan for a variety of missions. Now iRobot and Boeing have teamed to develop the SUGV 300 Series, tactical mobile robots that gather situational awareness in dangerous conditions while keeping warfighters and public safety professionals out of harm’s way.

SUGV 300 Series robots are smaller and lighter versions of the combat-proven iRobot PackBot®. More than 3,000 PackBot robots have been delivered to military and civil defense forces worldwide.
* Lightweight and compact, fit in MOLLE pack
* Rugged designs operate in all-weather conditions
* Easily climb stairs and overcome obstacles
* Game-style controller reduces training time
* Capable of performing 6-hour missions (longer durations possible depending on mission conditions)
* Perform fast tactical manoeuvres
* Modular designs accommodate optional payloads and sensors

SUGV 300 Series robots feature a modular design that allows multiple payloads to be easily integrated. With their plug-and-play design, SUGV 300 Series robots are well-positioned to take advantage of new developments in robot technology, including the integration of additional sensors, manipulator arms and other tools.

iRobot and Boeing offer comprehensive training, support and configuration management services for SUGV 300 Series robots, including spare parts and accessories, depot repairs and upgrades, technical support and training packages.

Oshkosh FMTV LHS With TerraMax™ UGV Technology

Oshkosh TerraMax™ unmanned ground vehicle technology (UGV) is designed as a kit and can be integrated on new vehicles as they are produced or on the government’s existing vehicle fleets. The TerraMax fully autonomous navigation kit has been demonstrated on the Marine Corps’ Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR) as well as the Army’s Palletized Load System (PLS). IEDs are the number-one threat facing military personnel on today’s battlefields. Even with the development of new heavily protected vehicles and signal-jamming technologies, dangers from hidden and widespread explosives remain a top concern for military forces. Deploying autonomous solutions for logistics missions can increase a driver’s situational awareness or remove that Warfighter all together.

Completely autonomous, requiring no driver and no remote control, the TerraMax was developed to help take troops out of harm’s way and reduce the personnel necessary to maintain supply lines. Based on Oshkosh’s MTVR (Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement) defense truck, TerraMax is equipped with technologies that include complex sensing systems, high-power computers and drive-by-wire technology.

TerraMax was one of only five vehicles, and the only tactical cargo hauler, to complete the 2005 DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Grand Challenge’s 132-mile desert course. TerraMax exhibited obstacle avoidance, GPS waypoint following, and 30 hours of continuous operation—all applicable to military missions.

Oshkosh has already integrated unmanned and leader-follower technology in the PLS, a 10-wheel-drive truck and trailer system.

On November 3, 2007 Team Oshkosh competed in the third DARPA Grand Challenge, the Urban Challenge, which called for teams to compete to build an autonomous vehicle able to complete a 60-mile urban course safely in less than six hours. TerraMax was one of only 11 teams to qualify for the finals, and did so by demonstrating the advanced navigation and traffic skills required to safely compete in the race. After the qualification test Dr. Tony Tether, director of DARPA complimented the team on being the safest performer on the merging vehicle course of the 11 chosen to compete.

Oshkosh TerraMax UGV technology has the potential to save lives through multiple applications of the autonomous technology:
* Removing the Warfigher mitigates the danger of armor overmatch
* Autonomous vehicles are able to operate for extended periods of time – day and night – and maintain visibility through dust and adverse weather conditions without fatigue
* Convoys can operate more effectively using TerraMax UGV technology to precisely maintain vehicle separation for greater security, improved efficiency and fewer collisions
* A Warfighter can supervise the coordinated operation of multiple autonomous vehicles from a distance, creating a force multiplier out of the TerraMax UGV technology

Oshkosh Defense showcased a U.S. Army vehicle equipped with Oshkosh TerraMax™ unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) technology at AUSA. The TerraMax technology delivers improved troop protection by reducing human exposure to battlefield threats, such as improvised explosive devices (IED), and increasing situational awareness while the vehicle is on the move.

The Oshkosh Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) Load Handling System (LHS) variant is equipped with the company’s unmanned technology for autonomous logistics missions. The TerraMax fully-autonomous navigation kit has been demonstrated on the Marine Corps’ Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR) 4x4 and 6x6 vehicles, as well as the Army’s Palletized Load System (PLS) vehicle.

“The TerraMax fully autonomous system provides flexibility to the Warfighter,” added Schmiedel. “It is integrated so each vehicle can still be manually driven with the press of a button. The technology is capable of fully autonomous missions supervised from an escort vehicle at a safe standoff, or operation in leader-follower mode, depending on the mission and situation.”

WFS Defense Inc.

WFS Defense Inc. confirms successful field trials of an unmanned robotic vehicle for through-ground C4ISR. WFS’s Terratext® and Terratooth® wireless radio systems were integrated into an iRobot® Negotiator® to provide communication, location, docking and wireless power transfer functions.

Successful integration included the demonstration of:
* Real-time command and control of a robot through the ground enabling remote deployment of robots in emergency situations for location of people trapped in caves, tunnels, culverts and collapsed buildings and
* also to support mapping, maintenance and repair of underground sewers, waterways and pipes.
* Video streaming through the ground to support operations where visual assessments are required, but human life cannot be risked (e.g. Search & Rescue)
* Location of an underground vehicle from the surface to pinpoint exact sites in tracking, search and rescue or reconnaissance missions
* Homing of the vehicle to a docking station to recharge or transmit information without returning to the surface
* Wireless power transfer to recharge the vehicle at a docking station to enable deployment for longer missions.
* Under joint funding from SEAS DTC and Invest Northern Ireland, part funded by the European Regional

Development Fund, (ERDF), WFS partnered with iRobot and the University of Ulster to demonstrate the
benefits that WFS’ radio technology can bring to unmanned robotic vehicles. Individual systems were integrated onto the vehicle and successful field trials were conducted in the presence of third parties at Castle Ward in Strangford Northern Ireland. The project was successful in demonstrating the variety of capabilities that WFS radio technology can bring to unmanned vehicle operations underground.

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