RACER – A New 12-Ton Autonomous Ground Vehicle

image from video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5t3-eXHC5Zs

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DARPA has announced that its RACER program (Robotic Autonomy in Complex Environments with Resiliency) recently passed an important milestone by testing its bigger and stronger drone variant – a 12-ton autonomous ground vehicle “beast” with a pair of green lights that are reminiscent of glowing eyes.

The huge drone is 6.1 meters long, has skid-steer tracked, and is being designed to complement and support other members of the RACER Fleet Vehicles (RFVs), which are significantly smaller (weighing only 2 tons and are only 3.35 meters long).

RACER program manager Stuart Young explains: “Having two radically different types of vehicles helps us advance towards RACER’s goal of platform agnostic autonomy in complex, mission-relevant off-road environments significantly more unpredictable than on-road conditions.”

According to Interesting Engineering, the new and larger RACER has been developed by the University of Washington and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Its latest test, which was successful, involved two teams that had no prior experience in the testing area, which was done to ensure the test was as realistic as possible for a real deployment and see how these vehicles could perform in a foreign environment. The tests also included nighttime operations that proved the new drone is equally as functional then as in daylight hours.

DARPA’s official press release read: “Using fully unoccupied RFVs, RACER demonstrated autonomous movement within a 15-square-mile terrain area including highly diverse ground vegetation cover, trees, bushes, rocks, slopes, obstructed ditches, and creek crossings typical of the varied, complex Texas terrain familiar to armored maneuvers.”

The RIPSAW M5 chassis on which the new drone is based is designed for silent operation, offering interesting opportunities for the military, including protecting convoys and conducting rescue missions. They can also be used for setting up perimeter defense, surveillance, patrolling the border, and crowd control, and can even be modified to dispose of explosive devices.