autonomous vehicle (Army research lab)

Army goes deep on autonomous systems

To accelerate advances in autonomous systems that will improve the military’s maneuverability in complex and contested environments, the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) will be conducting nine annual sprints focused on expanding the Army’s autonomy enterprise.  

Driverless vehicles being tested in cities take advantage of GPS, high-speed wireless data transmission, well-marked roads, signage and established driving rules. The Army, however, needs autonomous vehicles that can operate under changing conditions in complex environments where communications and GPS are disrupted or denied.

“Robotic and autonomous systems need the ability to enter into an unfamiliar area -- without the ability to communicate and for which there are no maps showing terrain or structures -- make sense of the environment, and perform safely and effectively at the Army’s operational tempo,” said Eric Spero, program manager with the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s newly created Scalable, Adaptive and Resilient Autonomy (SARA) program.  For the air and ground vehicles to be capable of perception, learning, reasoning, communication and navigation, “technologies must be identified and further developed, integrated and assessed,” he said.

The SARA program will tackle a different scientific area every year, starting with Off-Road Autonomous Maneuver. The three-part research topic will address improving how autonomous ground systems travel through increasingly complex off-road environments, how drones navigate environments such as forested environments to support ground platforms and dismounted soldiers and how a software infrastructure can orchestrate large-scale air-ground collaborative experiments.

Eight academic and industry partners have been awarded $2.9 million for first-year funding. The partners will work together to develop their solutions and integrate them into both testbed platforms and ARL’s autonomous systems software repository so they’ll be available across the Army Futures Command and Army autonomy enterprise.

First-year awardees include the Colorado School of Mines, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, GE Research, Indiana University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Delaware, University of Rochester and the University of Washington.

Future sprints will explore scalable heterogeneous and collaborative behaviors and human-agent teaming, ARL said, with the goal of delivering “adaptive and resilient intelligent systems that can reason about the environment, work in distributed and collaborative heterogeneous teams, and make operations-tempo decisions to enable maneuver in complex and contested environments,” officials said in the announcement.

ARL plans to bring partners together with Army researchers this summer at the Robotics Research Collaboration Campus in Baltimore County, Md.

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