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U.S. Marines Test Robot Trucks Within Manned Convoys

Aug. 22, 2012 - 03:57PM   |  
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The U.S. Marine Corps has finished an experiment that mixed robotic trucks within manned convoys and could eventually pave the way for expanded use of this type of technology.

Known as the Cargo Unmanned Ground Vehicle (Cargo UGV) program, Oshkosh Defense installed its TerraMax technology into two vehicles. The goal was to determine if and how unmanned trucks could operate alongside manned vehicles in a convoy. Numerous deaths caused by attacks on manned convoys prompted the idea for the program.

“If we could take Marines out of those logistics vehicles and autonomize them, one, you reduce the amount of casualties you have; and two, you have more Marines to put in different places and to do different missions,” Capt. Warren Watts, a logistics officer who oversaw the project, said earlier this month at an Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Las Vegas. “It becomes a logistics multiplier and a force multiplier.”

The Marines and Oshkosh conducted three “limited technical assessments,” at Fort Pickett, Va.; Gascola, Pa.; and Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

During the final experiment, the Marines operated two autonomous vehicles and a command-and-control vehicle within a manned convoy.

“Overall, the results were very positive,” Watts said, noting the system was “user friendly” and “could actually do what it was supposed to do.”

The autonomous trucks were able to stay on the road, avoid obstacles, stay in lanes, maintain speed and “not drive exactly like a human being, but as close as a robot could possibly be at this point in time with the technology that we have,” Watts said.

The testers learned the command-and-control system, if mounted on other types of trucks, could allow a Marine to control three to five vehicles at once.

Electronic sensors installed on the unmanned vehicle create a virtual picture of the world around the truck, according to Oshkosh officials. Should a person or animal run in front of the truck, the brakes are applied.

During the Marine Corps tests, the trucks cruised at a top speed of 35 miles per hour.

The system is designed to be installed on any tactical wheeled vehicle without taking away from the truck’s cargo space, according to Oshkosh officials. The goal is to have a nonobtrusive design, so the vehicle could be driven by a human or unmanned.

Oshkosh installed the TerraMax prototype system used on the trucks within a couple of weeks, company officials said. Even though the system performed well in testing, the military’s use of this technology is unclear at this point.

“Obviously, we’d like to continue on with the technology to see where it would go,” Watts said. “As of right now, we’re unsure where we’re going to go with it.”

While there is no formal program of record for this type of system, there has been interest within the Marine Corps, he said.

Oshkosh officials said the technology could be applied to any of the company’s vehicles.

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