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A driverless car technology is being developed for battlefield use. The US Army plans to run convoys with just one or two human drivers and several unmanned vehicles, so the same number of drivers can shift far more cargo. For that purpose, the Army has awarded a contract to Oshkosh to convert their trucks for automated operation.
The company’s logistical PLS vehicle is the Army’s main ammunition supply truck, a rugged 10×10 vehicle which can haul a 16-ton container with a built-in arm to load or unload at the touch of a button. The autonomy kit allows the PLS to drive itself.
For example, the company’s TerraMax technology allows a traditional tactical vehicle to be turned into a driverless one. This unmanned ground vehicle technology integrates high-power military computers, intelligence, drive-by-wire technology and state-of-the-art distributed sensing systems to make unmanned ground vehicles run with no driver and limited supervision.
There are also other defense agencies in the world that put efforts for this purpose, according to forces.net. In the UK, the Defence Science Technology Laboratory (DSTL) wants robots to bring ammunition, food and other supplies right up to the front line, in a program called Autonomous Last Mile Resupply. The DSTL has now awarded contracts to five competing teams for unmanned systems. These aim to carry out the resupply process automatically, navigating, plotting their own route and dropping off a payload without human help.
Some of the teams are working on small drones, like a military version of Amazon’s Prime Air. The heavy lifting will require ground vehicles though, the two contenders being the tracked TITAN developed by QinetiQ and Milrem, and the wheeled Viking from HORIBA MIRA.
Payloads are likely to be in the form of NATO standard pallets which measure 120×100 cm.
Both platforms have a long pedigree and reflect years of development, and the competition will be less a matter of hardware than software. The winner is likely to be determined by how well sensors and artificial intelligence can work out how to get around obstacles and find their way without getting stuck or lost. Ease of use is also likely to be a factor.
Both of the ground vehicles are highly modular and can be configured for a variety of roles from mine detection to casualty evacuation.
If they prove themselves in the resupply task their duties are likely to be extended.