Autonomous Combat Vehicle – What’s the Missing Link?

Autonomous Combat Vehicle – What’s the Missing Link?

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While the self-driving car industry has made significant advances while driving on paved roads, autonomous vehicles face considerable challenges when moving off-road and into more unpredictable environments.

The US Department of Defense has launched a new program aimed at supporting the development of off-road autonomous vehicles that react like humans would or better. Through its Robotic Autonomy in Complex Environments with Resiliency (RACER) program, the Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking to develop autonomy algorithm technologies for off-road vehicles.

While other projects are aimed at improving the sensors, RACER is more concerned with making sure “algorithms aren’t the limiting part of the system and that autonomous combat vehicles can meet or exceed soldier driving abilities,” according to the program announcement cited by

“The goal of the RACER program is to develop and demonstrate new autonomy algorithm technologies, rather than vehicle or sensor technologies, that enable Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) to maneuver in unstructured off-road terrain at speeds that are no longer limited by the autonomy software or processing time, but only by considerations of sensor limitations, vehicle mechanical limits, and safety,” according to the program description.

The challenges facing the Pentagon’s research funding arm are that:

  • In complex militarily-relevant settings, robotic vehicles have not demonstrated operationally relevant speed and aren’t autonomously reliable.
  • While vehicle platforms that can handle difficult terrain exist, their autonomy algorithms and software often can’t process and respond to changing situations well enough to maintain necessary speeds and keep up with soldiers on a mission.

The program will aim to demonstrate game-changing autonomous ground combat vehicle mobility using a combination of simulation and advanced platforms.