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Engaging in subterranean (SubT) environments puts warfighters in dangerous situations with limited visibility and movement, as well as potential environmental risks such as flooding, harmful air quality, etc. Additional challenges include limited situational awareness and severe communication constraints.

In such situations, deploying autonomy and sensor-enabled robotic systems provide the warfighter a tactical advantage through the ability to perform remote reconnaissance and other specific mission tasks while decreasing overall exposure to risks and lessening physical and cognitive load.

Robotic and autonomous technological advancements for SubT environments were recently demonstrated by the US Army DEVCOM Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC).

Through a project called the Autonomous Tunnel Exploitation (ATE), the demonstration exhibited improved situational understanding and tactical advantage by using multi-robot autonomy and sensing in a series of operational tests in a relevant SubT environment.

The technologies developed by the Center included GPS-denied autonomous navigation; 2D/3D spatial mapping; object detection; integrated chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear sensing; mesh radio communication; and automated after-action reporting, according to

“With the capabilities we developed, warfighters can task unmanned systems to rapidly map, navigate, and exploit underground environments including natural cave networks, tunnel systems, and urban underground infrastructure without stepping a foot inside,” said Danny Guerrero, GVSC project manager for Dismounted Robotic Systems.

“The end goal is a fully autonomous robotic solution where a multi-robot team in a highly communication-degraded environment can complete a mission with minimal human supervision,” he added.