Dual-Use Technology to Be Used for UGV Propulsion

This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)

Researchers have been developing new technologies to efficiently transform biomass like wood into electricity on-the-go. They discovered that an energy-efficient generator intended to power private residences could power autonomous military vehicles for months.

The research was led by a team of scientists and engineers from the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, with the support of the Department of Energy’s initiative to evaluate the Stirling cycle generator, which is known for its high-efficiency, virtually silent, long life and low emissions.

Justin Shumaker, the lab’s lead researcher on the project, said he believes this is the first time a Stirling generator of this scale has been used for propulsion on an autonomous ground vehicle — a tough task for a generator originally designed to generate electricity and provide heat for homes.

The researchers designed and manufactured several new technologies to use this generator for propulsion. The first was a DC-DC power converter that efficiently transforms electrical power from the Stirling generator set to the vehicle’s electrical bus.

They also modified a Clearpath Robotics Warthog, a large all-terrain unmanned ground vehicle capable of traveling on land and in water, leaving only the original chassis and wheels intact.

The team then designed a new battery using lithium-titanate cells and a battery management system, which is required to ensure the batteries are safe to use.

“This all has to be done in a way that integrates well with the vehicle, is reliable, has enough headroom to operate on very hot days and uses very little electricity for the pumps and fans,” he said.

There are many mechanical, electrical and software elements required to integrate a Stirling generator set into a hybrid electric vehicle for propulsion, according to dvidshub.net. “It’s more likely to see this generator used as a feasibility study and identify ways to improve it and scale it up,” Shumaker said. “What we learn from evaluating this genset will inform ways to improve the genset for a future Army system, whether for propulsion or as a stationary generator.”