WASHINGTON — Polaris rolled out its ground robot — the MRZR X, currently in the running for the U.S. Army’s competition for an unmanned equipment transport vehicle — at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference this week.

The MRZR X is one of four unmanned vehicles that may be selected and produced under the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport program. The other teams selected to advance farther into the competition are General Dynamics Land Systems, HDT Expeditionary Systems and Howe & Howe.

The Army selected the group from an array of companies which were chosen to participate in a demonstration event from Sept. 11 through Oct. 14 at Fort Benning, Georgia. The demonstration was meant to educate the Army on robotic logistics capabilities and for soldiers to provide operational feedback.

The MRZR X was developed by a team consisting of Polaris, Applied Research Associates and Neya Systems. Polaris provided the vehicle base while ARA and Neya provided the autonomy capability, Patrick Zech, Polaris’ program manager for advanced development, told Defense News at AUVSI. ARA recently acquired Neya Systems and has been producing Modular Robotic Applique Kits (M-RAKs) for more than 20 years.

Polaris unveils its MRZR X -- its first optionally manned and hybrid powered vehicle -- at AUVSI. It is entered in the Army's Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET) competition. (Photo courtesy of Polaris)
Polaris unveils its MRZR X -- its first optionally manned and hybrid powered vehicle -- at AUVSI. It is entered in the Army's Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET) competition. (Photo courtesy of Polaris)

While ground robots in this category can be quite similar, what sets MRZR X apart is its ability to be optionally manned. “Of the four teams moving on in SMET, we are the only one that can be soldier driven or purely autonomous; just flip a switch and you can drive it,” Zech said.

The vehicle was built using Polaris’ current D4 platform that is a preferred platform among Special Operations Forces and the Marine Corps for their ultralight mobility.

To transform the D4 into the MRZR X, Polaris installed export power, which is one of the requirements for SMET. Power can be generated while the vehicle is moving at a lower rate and at a higher rate when stopped, Zech explained.

The D4 and D2 variants are pure diesel and the MRZR X is Polaris’ first hybrid vehicle, which provides extended range and the power export capability, Zech added.

Polaris also designed the vehicle to be modular “because we know the Army is looking for other uses for it, other than just a pack mule,” he said. “Building in export power, trying to allow a lot of room in the back for payload integration, plug-and-play, drive-by-wire,” are some of the ways Polaris is preparing for future Army requirements, Zech said.

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For now the SMET requirement is to use a remote control to guide the vehicle, but down the road, Polaris anticipates the Army wanting to develop more capabilities using teleoperated means and leader-follower technology.

The four chosen companies are supposed to build 20 SMET platforms each that will be issued to two infantry brigade combat teams (IBCTs) to be tested and analyzed for their utility in the field.

Yet, the program is currently stalled due to multiple congressionally mandated continuing resolutions that fund the government at the previous year’s spending levels, which mean programs that are scheduled to start using fiscal year 2018 funding like SMET can’t do so. The deadline to reach a budget deal or extend the CR is Feb. 8.

Additionally, development in leader-follower technology and soldier-borne sensors will also be negatively affected should Congress extend the CR longer, according to Maj. Gen. John George, who is the director of force development in the Army’s Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8.