Robotic & Autonomous vehicles at AUSA 06

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Robotics is becoming an inherent part of modern warfare. AUSA 06 provided an insight into future developments pursued by the military. Combat proven platforms, represented here included the EOD and robotic scouts. Several R&D Technology Demonstrators were also displayed. Among the platforms unveiled here were the BAE Systems’ Black Knight, a robotic armored fighting vehicle currently tested as an unmanned “companion” for heavy armored combat formations.

Black Knight could represent one of the directions to be pursued by the future heavy force, as an equivalent to the unmanned elements of FCS. These concepts are being evaluated under the Armed Robotic Vehicle (ARV) system development. Autonomous operations technologies developed for future programs robotics are already underway at the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) at Carnegie Mellone University. The center outlined advanced capabilities such as autonomous navigation, route planning and artificial perception, utilizing LADAR sensors developed for the latest 6×6 Crusher unmanned Ground Vehicle, which was also presented here for the first time.

The first prototype of the Multi-Function Utility Logistics and Equipment carrier (MULE), developed by Lockheed Martin was shown, demonstrating its various navigation, control and mobility features. MULE is designed to sustain the future warrior teams, operating within the FCS brigade combat teams (BCT). The vehicle is currently at a full-scale engineering evaluation phase.

At AUSA 2006 the company unveiled another unmanned platform, called Squad Mission Support System (SMSS), a robotic vehicle based on a turbo-diesel powered, high mobility six wheel all-terrain vehicle (ATV) capable of carrying 1,000 pounds (500 kg) of payload. Current platforms are utilizing a commercial platform converted for a surrogate SMSS role. Future versions will utilize specially designed platforms, optimized for the SMSS mission.

Similar manned/unmanned platforms presented at the show included the Tactical Autonomous Chassis (TAC-C), developed by General Dynamics Robotics Systems, under an Army Research Lab (ARL) program. 

Another robotic support vehicle is offered by John Deer and I-Robot, which have joined forces to develop the R-Gator, a robotic version of John Deer’s M-Gator 6×6 vehicle. I-Robot also unveiled its heavy EOD platform called Warrior currently under development.

Much smaller but undoubtedly unique was an odd looking flapper robot unveiled by SAIC. The RHex robot demonstrates an ISR sensor carrier capable of negotiating extremely difficult terrain. The unique mobility concept employs semi-radial flaps, constantly rotated to establish traction over rough terrain, including steep and slippery surfaces, small boulders, deep sand and mud. The movement is relatively slow but enables the system to advance safely toward its designated target. The robot is currently at a preliminary study phase, utilizing a configuration fitted with forward looking video sensor.

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