Science

The US military is testing autonomous combat vehicles

US Army research agency Darpa is developing autonomous all-terrain vehicles capable of following a human-piloted convoy. The main part of the work of researchers is based on the development of sufficiently powerful algorithms for the perception of the terrain.

We’ve known designs for drones that fly squadrons as fighter wingmen, transport robots that follow infantrymen on the ground carrying heavy payloads, and Boston Dynamics’ famed Spot dog robots, and now the arrival of autonomous all-terrain combat vehicles. This project of the American agency Darpa is to create autonomous carautonomous car able to keep up with others over rough terrain. What is it used for? We could see the rear concerns of the Russian army during the first month of the invasion of Ukraine, columns of supply trucks were hit, the crews also suffered heavy losses.

To avoid this and use the soldiers to perform more tactical tasks, autonomous vehicles associated with logistics can follow the convoy, in which one vehicle will be piloted completely autonomously and at high speed by a person. According to Darpa’s specifications, these vehicles must be capable of more than just carrying combat rations on the front lines. They will allow, for example, to send an armored vehicle to the base for maintenance work.

At the first stage of testing, an autonomous buggy had to move at low speed over very rough terrain. His perceptual algorithms were put to the test. © Darpa

Test perception algorithms

For the Darpa, these vehicles must be able to drive at high speed over rough terrain in the same way as those driven by humans, with appropriate steering movements, for example, to avoid an obstacle. This Darpa project is led by Robotic Autonomy in Complex Environments with Resiliency (Racer). The organization has teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to produce certain pieces of software. NASANASA and the University of Washington.

So far, two series of experiments have already been carried out. The first was held in Fort Irvine, California from March to April. The buggy car had to overcome 40 uneven routes with a length of more than 3.2 km at a speed of less than 32 km/h. The second is currently taking place at Camp Roberts. It consists of trips to desert areas to test perceptual algorithms. The program includes steep slopes, slippery surfaces and ditches. Through these experiments, the researchers intend to improve the algorithms’ perception of the environment so that driving is as smooth and safe as the driver. At the moment, the video of the first tests shows that victory is still far away. The vehicle sometimes struggles to determine smooth trajectories in advance and must maneuver to find other exits.

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