Smart robots: navigation system advances Army's pursuit of unmanned vehicles.

Author:Wagner, Breanne

The Army will begin a series of tests in October that could demonstrate whether ground combat robots can find their way autonomously in the battlefield.

The trials are part of a broader robotics technology effort that the Army is pursuing under the Future Combat Systems modernization program.

The navigation system that Army engineers will test could determine whether soldiers will be able to send robots on missions without requiring a human operator to remotely control the machine.

The autonomous navigation system, which was developed by General Dynamics Corp., would allow a robot to move from a preprogrammed location to another, avoid obstacles and even follow other vehicles in a convoy.

This system, if it proves successful, will be used on nearly all FCS unmanned ground vehicles, and has the potential to be incorporated into other military robots, says Paul Mehney, a spokesman for the FCS program.

The FCS unmanned ground vehicle program is the largest effort of its kind in the Defense Department, says Jeff Jaczkowski, deputy associate director for intelligent ground systems at the Army Tank Automotive and Armaments Research, Development and Engineering Center.

It comprises the autonomous navigation system, the small, unmanned ground vehicle [SUGV] and the multifunction utility/logistics equipment vehicle [MULE], which has three variants.

The SUGV is a small man portable vehicle that will be used for "intensive or high-risk functions," Mehney says.

It will be used for such missions as reconnaissance and military operations in urban terrain, tunnels, sewers or caves, he continues.

Soldiers in the field will operate the SUGV by remote control.

The MULE is a 2.5-ton vehicle that will support dismounted and air assault operations, Mehney says. It has three variants that share a common chassis: transport, countermine and the armed robotic vehicle.

The transport version, called MULE-T, will carry 1,900 to 2,400 pounds of equipment and rucksacks, Mehney says. The vehicle will reduce the soldier's workload by providing a much-needed logistics capability. It will also increase situational awareness and will allow the soldier to focus on tasks other than driving, he says.

The countermine vehicle, or MULE-CM, will be able to detect, mark and neutralize anti-tank mines through a mine detection system. The assault version, called ARV-A-L, will be equipped with an integrated weapons system, and will have reconnaissance and surveillance capability to...

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