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Israeli academia and industries invest in the development of UGVs, with the unmanned vehicles being ideal for security * Armies around the world, including the IDF, employ robots – but not enough

Amstaff UGV
Amstaff UGV

Along the border between north and south Korea, at Nahal Oz and Efrat, at IMI facilities, in European and African countries – in all these places you can find an Israeli UGV, cementing Israel’s place as a leading manufacturer of autonomous unmanned vehicles, successfully carrying out security and HLS missions, military, civilian, complex and life saving. Robot-based security includes preventing intrusions, alerts, camera-based detection and initiating first response to alerts.

The Amstaff is an unmanned vehicle for securing facilities, most of its missions being civilian. According to Amos Goren, founder of Automotive Robotic Industry, it can be equipped with tear gas, machine guns, fire fighting equipment, thermal cameras and a public announcement system. It features two electric engines and 36-hour endurance. “We didn’t have to do any maintanance work for clients in three years.”

The Amstaff is a success, but among Israeli UGV experts there’s a feeling that armies, including the IDF, still do not use UGVs much less than unmanned aerial vehicles. These issues were discussed at the robotics conference held yesterday, hosted by the Israeli branch of AUVSI and focusing on mobile ground-based robotic systems.

Jacob Mashiah, from IAI’s Lahav division, said: “Armies around the world still lack a defined operational need for UGVs. There are some operational vehicles, too few, althought it has been proven that a UGV can successfully replace humans in dangerous missions, dirty, distant and routine. The situation in the IDF will improve only if the army includes using robotic vehicles in its official annual work programs. What’s happening is that there’s an initial excitement over the new “toy”, meaning the autonomous vehicle, which cools down and the vehicle is then ignored.” Emanuel Liban, Chairman of the Union of Engineers, said that over the last few years there had been a dramatic improvement in sensor development – lower costs and mass, improved precision and reliability. Development of power sources for mobile robots, however, lags behind. According to Liban the automobile industry might be the one to save the day.

Even so, the academia and industry invest a lot of financial and human resources, in Israel and abroad, focused on developing robotic vehicles. The name of the game today is ending the robots’ loneliness – they’re set to work in groups.

Professor Gal Kaminka from Bar Ilan University differentiates between robot swarms (non-cooperating robots) and robot packs (coordinating actions, using teamwork). “Using multiple robots prevents dependence on one vulnerable system. They can help each other and cover each other’s back. This is well documented in the civilian and military worlds: KIVO, for example, built a system of dozens of robots that package products in a massive warehouse, while a robotic pack patrols the Israeli border. To facilitate this experts are now developing algorithms for robots moving in formation.

IHLS – Israel Homeland Security

Robotics experts participating in the conference defined several future challenges facing military robotics:

  • Operating in unfamiliar territory
  • Decision-making processes in unfamiliar conditions
  • Multi-mission robots
  • Combining several types of robots
  • Combining manned and unmanned systems

Prof. Hugo Guterman from Ben Gurion University reviewed another area of collaboration between Israeli academia and industry: The ROBIL project, a global robot-development competition, aimed at raising the level of the profession. Project partners include IAI, the Ministry of Defense R&D center, Cogniteam, the Technion, Bar Ilan University and Ben Gurion University. The Israeli ROBIL group has already built robots for DARPA in the past.

Dr. Yehuda Almallah from Cogniteam presented an autonomous kit developed by his company, offering a variety of capabilities for UGVs: Location, obstacle avoidance, course planning and mapping. The kit can be installed on board any robotic vehicle – all it takes is half a day of integration.

Dr. Amir Shapira from Ben Gurion University presented his UGV lab’s main project: Robotic movement and perception, especially crossing harsh terrain. His team writes algorithms for each and every step taken by the robot.

Dr. Noa Agmon from Bar Ilan University investigates the behavior of UGVs and their opponents. When a robot patrols along the border, for example, it is threatened by improvised explosive devices. When a group of robots patrols along the same border, it may face intrusion attempts. These are the challenges facing UGVs, and they have to be taken into account when writing the appropriate algorithms.