Posts Tagged robotics

Army researchers envision future robots

 

Army Technology Magazine focuses on robotics and autonomous vehicle research in the November-December 2014 issue.

Army Technology Magazine focuses on robotics and autonomous vehicle research in the November-December 2014 issue.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Nov. 3, 2014) — The U.S. Army is investing in robotics research and development with a vision of increasing autonomy.

“As we plan for the future, we’ve determined that advanced autonomy-enabled technologies will play an even greater role in keeping our Soldiers safe,” said Dr. Paul D. Rogers, director of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center at the Detroit Arsenal, Warren, Michigan.

In the November/December 2014 issue of Army Technology Magazine, Rogers outlines the future of autonomous vehicles research and development. His aim is not to replace Soldiers, but provide a “continuum of capabilities that will augment and enable them, while filling some of the Army’s most challenging capability gaps.”

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Autonomy-enabled technology provides a pathway to the future

A convoy of Army trucks gets a test at Fort Hood, Texas. Testers were sometimes in the driver seats, but the vehicles operated autonomously. (U.S. Army photo)

A convoy of Army trucks gets a test at Fort Hood, Texas. Testers were sometimes in the driver seats, but the vehicles operated autonomously. (U.S. Army photo)

By Bruce J. Huffman, TARDEC Public Affairs

Army engineers from the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center at Detroit Arsenal, Michigan, are developing technology solutions for autonomy-enabled systems.

TARDEC and an industry partner, Lockheed Martin, demonstrated the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System or AMAS at Fort Hood, Texas in January 2014.

Researchers transformed ordinary trucks from the Army’s current vehicle fleet into optionally-manned vehicles, offering drivers new safety features and additional capabilities that never existed until now.

“These systems are designed, not to replace warfighters, but to help unburden them and augment their capabilities,” said Bernard Theisen, TARDEC program manager for AMAS.

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Soldiers of the future will generate their own power

A Soldier conducts dismounted maneuvers wearing Lightning Pack's Rucksack Harvester, Bionic Power's Knee Harvester and MC-10's photovoltaic, or PV, Solar Panel Harvester during an energy harvesting technology demonstration held at Ft. Devens, Mass. by the Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center. (U.S. Army photo by David Kamm)

A Soldier conducts dismounted maneuvers wearing Lightning Pack’s Rucksack Harvester, Bionic Power’s Knee Harvester and MC-10′s photovoltaic, or PV, Solar Panel Harvester during an energy harvesting technology demonstration held at Ft. Devens, Mass. by the Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center. (U.S. Army photo by David Kamm)

By Jeff Sisto, NSRDEC Public Affairs

Wearable technologies may provide U.S. Soldiers with on-the-move, portable energy and reduce the weight of gear they carry into combat.

Researchers at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center are developing Soldier-borne energy harvesting technologies.

During the Maneuver Fires Integration Experiment, or MFIX, a combined, multi-phase joint training exercise held in September 2014 at Fort Benning, Georgia, researchers tested prototype energy harvesting technology solutions.

“My initial impression is that they fulfill a need for instant power generation on long-range missions when displaced from traditional resupply methods,” said Sgt. 1st Class Arthur H. Jones, an infantryman with the Maneuver Center of Excellence who participated in the demonstration.

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RDECOM is the Army’s autonomous technology enabler

TARDEC Chief Engineer and Senior Technology Expert for Robotics Dr. Greg Hudas (standing) and TARDEC research scientist Jeremy Gray test circuit boards from a Packbot robot being completely refurbished at the center’s Small Robots Laboratory.  As an STE, Hudas' principle focus is software development and autonomous controller device technology, both of which are being developed at TARDEC for integration into the new fleet of PackBot robots. (U.S. Army photo by Amanda Dunford)

TARDEC Chief Engineer and Senior Technology Expert for Robotics Dr. Greg Hudas (standing) and TARDEC research scientist Jeremy Gray test circuit boards from a Packbot robot being completely refurbished at the center’s Small Robots Laboratory.  As an STE, Hudas’ principle focus is software development and autonomous controller device technology, both of which are being developed at TARDEC for integration into the new fleet of PackBot robots. (U.S. Army photo by Amanda Dunford)

by Dr. Gregory R. Hudas, TARDEC Ground Vehicle Robotics chief engineer

The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command is synergizing research centers and labs under its command to create a robotics community that will enhance the Army’s ability to employ autonomy-enabled vehicle technologies to support the Soldier in every aspect of their operational life.

The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Ground Vehicle Robotics division is spearheading that initiative for the RDECOM community to create a Robotics Community of Practice, known as the CoP. The new Robotics CoP will speak with one voice coming from RDECOM to provide a concise message to the Army and Department of Defense customers we support. It’s all about removing redundancy across programs and collaborating a lot more closely as an enterprise.

The community charter, which is in the early development stages, will eventually help lay out the roles and responsibilities for each research, development and engineering center, whether that is by enabling autonomy, platforms, capabilities or usage. The CoP will also strive to achieve critical missions that regularly demonstrate evolutionary technology advancements, provide long-term data collection, promote open architecture across all stakeholder communities and strengthen those stakeholder partnerships. RDECOM needs the CoP to seek collaboration with key partners from academia, industry and the other service branches and federal laboratories to develop these autonomy-enabled vehicle technologies, and then demonstrate those systems, subsystems and capabilities to the user community ― our Soldiers and Marines. Our collaborative partnerships are crucial for strengthening governance, standards and collective strategy moving forward.

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Seeking the ethical robot

Dr. Ronald Arkin speaks to robotics researchers about developing ethical systems Sept. 10, 2014, at a U.S. Army Research Laboratory Colloquium at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. (U.S. Army photo by Doug Lafon)

Dr. Ronald Arkin speaks to robotics researchers about developing ethical systems Sept. 10, 2014, at a U.S. Army Research Laboratory Colloquium at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. (U.S. Army photo by Doug Lafon)

By David McNally, RDECOM Public Affairs

Scientists and engineers from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory gathered Sept. 10, 2014 to discuss ethical robots.

Dr. Ronald C. Arkin, a professor from Georgia Tech, roboticist and author, challenged Army researchers to consider the implications of future autonomous robots.

“The bottom line for my talk here and elsewhere is concern for noncombatant casualties on the battlefield,” Arkin said. “I believe there is a fundamental responsibility as scientists and technologists to consider this problem. I do believe that we can, must and should apply this technology in this particular space.”

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Ground Robotics Capabilities Conference and Exhibition

The Disrupter Integration System provides disrupter mounting solutions for the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Man Transportable Robotic System robots. By 2021, Army acquisition officials hope to replace current systems with the Man Transportable Robotic System Increment II, known as MTRS Inc II. (U.S. Army photo)

The Disrupter Integration System provides disrupter mounting solutions for the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Man Transportable Robotic System robots. By 2021, Army acquisition officials hope to replace current systems with the Man Transportable Robotic System Increment II, known as MTRS Inc II. (U.S. Army photo)

By David McNally, RDECOM Public Affairs

Future Army robotics systems will rely on open architecture, modular design and innovative concepts to perform missions from surveillance to wide area route clearance, according to Army officials.

“In the Army we always say, ‘never send our Soldiers into a fair fight,’” said Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Heidi Shyu said in the keynote address Aug. 13, 2014, to the National Defense Industrial Association Ground Robotics Capabilities Conference and Exhibition in Hyattsville, Maryland.

Hundreds of industry representatives, researchers and engineers gathered for the event, which provided a forum for the industry and government to identify technologies that will help meet future warfighter needs.

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Remote lethality: Army researchers address a host of challenges

While conducting a Gunnery Exercise the Ripsaw Unmanned Ground Vehicle engages a stationary BMP target at a distance of 700 meters using the M250 Caliber Machine Gun. (U.S. Army photo)

While conducting a Gunnery Exercise the Ripsaw Unmanned Ground Vehicle engages a stationary BMP target at a distance of 700 meters using the M250 Caliber Machine Gun. (U.S. Army photo)

By Ed Lopez, Picatinny Arsenal Public Affairs

In popular culture, the idea of robots that perform human-like functions has a special hold on the imagination, based on real-life examples like space exploration, unmanned aerial drones and stoked by futuristic scenarios in movies like the “Terminator” series.

The military has used and experimented with robots that perform functions such as scouting and surveillance, carrying supplies and detecting and disposing of improvised homemade bombs.

However, when it comes to integrating lethality, such as a weapon capable of firing 10 rounds per second onto an unmanned ground vehicle, issues arise such as safety, effectiveness and reliability, as well as military doctrine on how much human involvement is required.

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Army researchers develop pocket-sized aerial surveillance device

A British Soldier holds a Prox Dynamics' PD-100 Black Hornet, a palm-sized miniature helicopter weighing only 16 grams. Researchers with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center are testing the Black Hornet to provide squad-sized small units with organic intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability. (Courtesy photo by United Kingdom Ministry of Defense)

A British Soldier holds a Prox Dynamics’ PD-100 Black Hornet, a palm-sized miniature helicopter weighing only 16 grams. Researchers with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center are testing the Black Hornet to provide squad-sized small units with organic intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability. (Courtesy photo by United Kingdom Ministry of Defense)

By Jeffrey Sisto, NSRDEC Public Affairs

Researchers at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center are developing technologies for a pocket-sized aerial surveillance device for Soldiers and small units operating in challenging ground environments.

The Cargo Pocket Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance program, or CP-ISR, seeks to develop a mobile Soldier sensor to increase the situational awareness of dismounted Soldiers by providing real-time video surveillance of threat areas within an immediate operational environment.

While larger systems have been used to provide over-the-hill ISR capabilities on the battlefield for almost a decade, none deliver it directly to the squad level where Soldiers need the ability to see around the corner or into the next room during combat missions.

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Researchers test insect-inspired robot

These nano-quads are the size that the U.S. Army Research Laboratory Micro-Autonomous Systems Technology consortium of researchers envision. The current state is about as compact as a microwave oven. (Photo courtesy of KMel robotics)

These nano-quads are the size that the U.S. Army Research
Laboratory Micro-Autonomous Systems Technology consortium of researchers envision. The current state is about as compact as a microwave oven. (Photo courtesy of KMel robotics)

By Joyce P. Brayboy, ARL Public Affairs

Army researchers are finding they have much to learn from bees hovering near a picnic spread at a park.

Dr. Joseph Conroy, an electronics engineer at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, part of the Research, Development and Engineering Command, works with robotic systems that can navigate by leveraging visual sensing inspired by insect neurophysiology.

A recently developed prototype that is capable of wide-field vision and high update rate, hallmarks of insect vision, is something researchers hope to test at the manned and unmanned teaming, or MUM-T exercise at the Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Georgia. This project will give us a chance to implement methods of perception such as 3-D mapping and motion estimation on a robotics platform, Conroy said.

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Researchers gather feedback from robotic chem-bio sensor users

The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center featured the Rapid Area Sensitive-site Reconnaissance Advanced Technology Demonstration at the Team CBRNE Capability Showcase Aug. 5-6 where partners in government, industry and academia attended to learn more about chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosives technologies. (U.S. Army photo)

The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center featured the Rapid Area Sensitive-site Reconnaissance Advanced Technology Demonstration at the Team CBRNE Capability Showcase Aug. 5-6 where partners in government, industry and academia attended to learn more about chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosives technologies. (U.S. Army photo)

ECBC Public Affairs

Soldiers entering a building suspected of chemical contamination are exposed to an unpredictable environment with potentially hostile forces. Inconclusive information and a lack of concrete data make it difficult for them to make timely decisions during a critical mission.

Army researchers are working on technology solutions to give Soldiers key information to keep them safe from chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosives threats.

The future of chem-bio detection is wrapped in the evolution of technology, according to experts from the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

The center is demonstrating advanced detection equipment for sensitive-site assessments where the threat is likely, but remains unknown.

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Army matures autonomous flight technologies

The K-MAX helicopter performs autonomous operations at a Fort Benning, Georgia test. (U.S. Army photo)

The K-MAX helicopter performs autonomous operations at a Fort Benning, Georgia test. (U.S. Army photo)

By Ryan Keith, AMRDEC Public Affairs

Virtually all aircraft, from the Wright brothers first airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to the unmanned aircraft systems employed in operations today, share a common component: Pilots. Whether in the cockpit or through remote control, pilots have remained a critical component to aviation, until now.

Researchers at the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center at Redstone, Alabama, are developing and demonstrating autonomous flight technologies that promise to change the future of aviation.

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U.S. Army, South Korean leaders discuss research, development partnerships

Brig. Gen. Daniel Hughes (center), deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, briefs Dr. Jung Ho Ko (left), director of South Korea's Civilian Military Technology Cooperation Center, and Kim Ihn Cheol (right), a research fellow at CMTC, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., June 11.

Brig. Gen. Daniel Hughes (center), deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, briefs Dr. Jung Ho Ko (left), director of South Korea’s Civilian Military Technology Cooperation Center, and Kim Ihn Cheol (right), a research fellow at CMTC, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., June 11.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (June 12, 2013) — U.S. Army and South Korean officials discussed potential collaboration in science and technology areas that benefit both the military and civilian sectors June 11.

Brig. Gen. Daniel Hughes, deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, and Dr. Jung Ho Ko, director of South Korea’s Civilian Military Technology Cooperation Center, discussed how the countries could benefit from cooperation, especially in mutual areas of interest such as unmanned robotics, sensors and communications technologies.

Hughes said expanding the countries’ strong relationship into military research, development and engineering could spur great benefits.

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http://go.usa.gov/bQMe

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Heftier unmanned ground vehicle offers more lifting, hauling strength

The iRobot Warrior, using a tool on the end of its arm, is able to grab, lift and carry heavy items. The arm can lift up to 350 pounds and the Warrior can carry a payload of up to 150 pounds.

The iRobot Warrior, using a tool on the end of its arm, is able to grab, lift and carry heavy items. The arm can lift up to 350 pounds and the Warrior can carry a payload of up to 150 pounds.

DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. (June 4, 2013) — A small car can’t pull a heavy trailer. Sports utility vehicles don’t have a compact car’s fuel efficiency. A perfect, one-size-fits-all vehicle doesn’t exist. The same goes for unmanned ground vehicles, known as UGVs.

Soldiers use UGVs — such as the 40-pound PackBot or the larger, 115-pound TALON — to detect and defeat roadside bombs, gain situational awareness, detect chemical and radiological agents, and increase the standoff distance between Soldiers and potentially dangerous situations. Just as SUVs offer utility smaller cars can’t match, larger UGVs provide capabilities not available with smaller platforms.

The 300-pound iRobot Warrior, developed in partnership with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s tank and automotive center, is a large UGV that offers more lifting and carrying power, as well as the potential for better dexterity to grab items or open and close doors.

The Warrior’s capabilities combine that of a Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center-developed map-based navigation and those of the Warrior’s predecessor, the Neomover, which was larger than a PackBot and could perform several dexterous tasks with its robotic arm.

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APG to launch centralized STEM education center

Harford County eighth-grade students explore science and engineering as part of the fifth annual Technology Needs Teens program at Harford Community College on May 24, 2012. The Aberdeen Proving Ground STEM Education and Outreach Center will be ready in late May 2013.

Harford County eighth-grade students explore science and engineering as part of the fifth annual Technology Needs Teens program at Harford Community College on May 24, 2012. The Aberdeen Proving Ground STEM Education and Outreach Center will be ready in late May 2013.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Maryland students will soon have a unified APG facility at which to explore the world of science and engineering with Army professionals.

The APG STEM Education and Outreach Center will be ready in late May, said Dr. Sandy Young, an Army Research Laboratory materials engineer. She is coordinating the project with ARL laboratory operations and other science, technology, engineering and mathematics outreach offices on APG.

Young said the SEOC will allow multiple APG tenant organizations to pool their resources to benefit students’ experiences in science and engineering. The facility will accommodate up to 200 students.

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http://go.usa.gov/4u5H

 

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Team APG’s Electrobots win STEM competition

Electrobots coach Virginia To discusses robot strategy with (from left) Sam Boin, George Houzouris and Aaron Boin at a FIRST LEGO League competition Jan. 26.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Seven Harford County students showcased their talents as aspiring scientists and engineers, winning a FIRST LEGO League competition Jan. 26.

The Electrobots team, sponsored by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Team APG and Churchville Lions Club, took top honors at the FLL First State Championship Tournament at the University of Delaware.

Electrobots’ members are Aaron Boin, Sam Boin, George Houzouris, Tyler Kash, Nicholas Kendall, Dawson Reed and Tommy Sukiennik. The team competed against 125 teams from northeastern Maryland, Delaware, eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

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http://go.usa.gov/4Ea4

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Educating with aqua-bots

This underwater robot was built by students younger than 16 years of age. Imagine what they'll build when they graduate from college.

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. — Were you building robots before you turned 16? A select number of students who participated in our summer educational outreach program did just that.

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Student robotic challenges also place emphasis on teamwork

The Roxbury Township basketball robot takes a shot at the basket during a recent FIRST Robotics Competition. Standing in back cheering in a red jumpsuit, his right arm raised, is Shahram Dabiri, the Roxbury team coach and mentor. Dabiri is also the DoD Ordnance Technology Consortium Technology Manager at Picatinny Arsenal.

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. — Eight high school robotics teams mentored by engineers at the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) competed March 31st to April 1st at the Mount Olive High School in some friendly robot basketball.

The teams participated in a competition called “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” (FIRST), which challenges student teams to design, build and compete against one another with…

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Robotics competitions promote science education for students

By Ed Lopez

A team from Newton High School in Sussex County, N.J., controls its robot while competing in the FIRST 2010 International Finals in Atlanta. FIRST means "For Inspiration and recognition of science and technology."

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. – It is often said that the difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys.

An organization called “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” (FIRST) allows them to play together.

In fact it encourages not only men and boys–but also girls and women –to join in the same activities.

FIRST exists to encourage students from many nations to experience technology and engineering through competitive robotics challenges at several levels.

Personnel at Picatinny Arsenal are involved in advancing the learning and cooperation that the program fosters, and in the process promoting education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

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Army works with industry, academia to study micro-robotics

Army scientist Dr. Brett Piekarski leads the U.S. Army's Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology Collaborative Technology Alliance, studying miniature robotics.

Army scientist Dr. Brett Piekarski leads the U.S. Army's Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology Collaborative Technology Alliance, studying miniature robotics. (U.S. Army photo by Doug Lafon)

ADELPHI, Md. (Feb. 27, 2011) — Imagine a future when American Soldiers will see threats lurking just beyond their vision with help from autonomous robots the size of bats and hummingbirds and even down to the size of a fruit fly.

“The idea is that last 100 meters coming up to a threat building, a cave or a tunnel system,” said Army scientist Dr. Brett Piekarski, Ph.D., “I want to send something in to give us informational awareness before the Soldier goes into that environment.”

Piekarski leads the U.S. Army’s Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology Collaborative Technology Alliance, studying miniature robotics. He envisions tiny intelligent robots helping Soldiers accomplish complex tasks.

“It’s all about that last 100 meters. The Soldier releases micro-robotic platforms. They find their own way into the building or whatever the environment,” he said. “They navigate within that building on their own. They map out the building. They detect threats. They get information back out to the Soldier. And, they do all of this autonomously.”

The reality is still years away.

The Army initiated a partnership with academia and industry nearly five years ago to conduct basic research.

A problem with today’s robots is the ratio of user-to-robot. Today, Soldiers remotely control the movements of robots.

“When the Soldier is driving it, he’s focused on the screen, and not protecting himself. If he were to drive it into the building and lose connectivity or communications, to get it back, he’d have to go in and get it.”

The vision for the future is to have many robots overseen by one Soldier.

“That’s the goal, he said. “Find your way in and get the information back out. While the robot is doing that, the Soldier can be doing something else.”

When the program started, the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Md., had several objectives. Scientists wanted to understand fundamental technologies that would to enable autonomous micro-robots to work together.

“We’re talking about systems that are really small, collaborative, autonomous robotic platforms all the way down to the insect size,” Piekarski said. “These things are operating from the handheld size all the way down to fruit-fly size platforms.”

How big is a fruit fly? Consider making a functional robot that’s approximately 1/16 of an inch long. ARL scientists developed and fabricated fruit-fly size flapping wings in coordination with researchers at the Universities of Maryland and Washington who are working on understanding bee and fly flight mechanics and controls. Harvard University researchers are working on insect flight at a slightly larger scale.

“One of the questions was whether flapping wing flight is better than rotary or fixed wing,” he said. “A lot of what has been researched over the last four years is to understand the mechanics of wing motion.”

Piekarski said a bee can right itself within a couple of turns when being hit by a wind gust — much more quickly than existing robotics systems.

“How do they do that? They don’t have the complex sensors we have. They’re working with very simple systems and controls. We’re trying to understand the control theories,” he said. ”
We looked at nature to see what we could learn from biological systems. How can we apply some of those lessons to robotic platforms to enable these small-scale platforms? It’s very broad, complex and interdisciplinary.”

The Army’s research program, Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology, is known as MAST. It brings together a lead defense contractor, BAE Systems, to work on microsystems integration.

The University of Michigan works on microelectronics, while the University of Maryland focuses
on microsystem mechanics. The University of Pennsylvania works on processing for autonomous operations.

Researchers are studying more than 70 complex tasks. As an alliance, other additional working general members support research within the centers and thrust areas. Members include the University of California at Berkeley, the Cal Tech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of New Mexico, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

The researchers are developing both ground and air collaborative platforms, as well as a hybrid of the two.

The project started in 2008 as a five-year journey, with an option for another five years. Looking back, many auspicious events were happening in the robotics field, Piekarski said.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a research organization of the U.S. Department of Defense known as DARPA, wanted to see who had the technological know-how to create the first fully autonomous ground vehicles capable of completing a substantial off-road course within a limited time. A team of Stanford University researchers won the $2 million DARPA Grand Challenge on Oct. 8, 2005. The competition was for driverless vehicles using ladar, a laser range finder. It paints a 3-D image of its environment.

“That’s a pretty substantial piece of equipment, and it’s not something you can put on a 20-gram robot,” Piekarski said. “The question is, if you go down to a 20-gram flier that has three to five grams of payload, what kind of sensors can you put on it? The algorithms you have for the DARPA Grand Challenge vehicles have multiple duel-core processors in the back; they have big sensors, radar, ladar and more. They’ve even got sensors on the wheels. You’re not going to put that on a 20-gram platform.”

Piekarski said the challenge of autonomous microrobots is more challenging.

“Not only are we trying to navigate, we’re trying to collaborate with other platforms,” he said.

“We’re trying to do communications and network links. We’re trying to control threat detection. It’s a more complex problem on a much more constrained platform.”

Piekarski is optimistic because of MAST program accomplishments so far. Now, Army officials are evaluating the next step. The Army funds a large portion of the research, but industry and academia are invested.

“We’re not there yet, but we’ve done a lot of good basic research,” Piekarski said.
Energy requirements are another challenge.

“Power is a big problem for some of these smaller platforms,” he said. “The lifetimes some of the emerging technologies are about five or 10 minutes. Some platforms are at 20 minutes. But, through a combination of approaches we think we’ll be able to address the solution as we progress in the technology.”

Piekarski hopes to leverage the huge investment in small batteries being made by industry for small electronics.

Someday the MAST vision may offer revolutionary ways for Soldiers to gather vital information on the battlefield. This research also has several applications outside the military, Piekarski said.

“We’re trying to create a capability for the Soldier so we don’t have to send him into a threat situation. You could apply those same things in the civilian world where there may be threats, like police, fire, rescue and disaster relief, for example. A lot of the individual technology can and is being spun out to transition to larger commercial platforms over the course of the program,” he said.

“We want to increase the operational tempo to match that of the Soldier so the robotics can move and detect threats at the same tempo as the Soldier as they move through complex environments,” Piekarski said.

Today’s autonomous systems operate at a much slower pace.

“We’re working with the consortium to identify the real focus for the next five years,” Piekarski said. “As we go into the next five years, how are we going to change that focus? The base goals are still the same. It’s a force multiplier. I want to be able to add to their capability where they can go into a building and distribute sensors. Robots will go in to see if there are any threats. If not, they distribute and leave behind sensors.”

Piekarski envisions a scenario where an aerial vehicle might drop several ground platforms that distribute themselves, find places to hide and create a communication network.

“You can think of it as a mobile sensor network that gets left behind,” he said. “In the future, a Soldier would have two or three micro-robots in his pocket. He would let them go and they would operate autonomously. He wouldn’t have to drive; the platforms might have more sensors, more payload. It might detect people or chemicals, maybe even nuclear residue. In the end, there is an enhanced capability while freeing up the time of the Soldier.”

The project won’t develop a single product, and that’s not its purpose, Piekarski said. “It’s a fundamental research program. We’re looking at how far we can push the technology. We want to understand the fundamentals of winged flight — not just to see if we can make something fly, but understand why it flies. We want to develop control algorithms and develop a fundamental understanding of these technologies.”

Some may see parallels with science fiction. Piekarski discussed a scene from the movie “Minority Report” where police released spider-like micro-robots. They quickly detected their target and relayed that information.

“Life has a way of imitating art,” Piekarski said. “To get to where we want to go we have to have real autonomous systems navigating through these buildings and working collaboratively. “We’re going to have to have integrated solutions to make those things a reality, and that’s where our program is going.”

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Out of the classroom and into the field

 

TARDEC Senior Research Scientist for Robotics Dr. Jim Overholt addresses participants during opening ceremonies for the 19th Annual IGVC June 3, 2011. College students from across the world competed in robotics challenges, including a navigational course and an autonomous challenge. The program is part of TARDEC’s ongoing commitment to develop future scientists and engineers and provide students with real-world expertise to prepare them for future careers. (U.S. Army TARDEC photos by Chris Williams).

TARDEC Senior Research Scientist for Robotics Dr. Jim Overholt addresses participants during opening ceremonies for the 19th Annual IGVC June 3, 2011. College students from across the world competed in robotics challenges, including a navigational course and an autonomous challenge. The program is part of TARDEC’s ongoing commitment to develop future scientists and engineers and provide students with real-world expertise to prepare them for future careers. (U.S. Army TARDEC photos by Chris Williams).

Forty teams from around the world converged June 3–6, 2011, on Oakland University’s campus in Rochester, MI, for the 19th Annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition, hosted by the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The culmination of many of the Army’s robotics education programs, IGVC allows future scientists and engineers the chance to get their hands dirty developing systems with real-world applications.

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