The Future is Here: Autonomos Mineroller Vehicles

terramax-inlineImprovised explosive devices (IEDs), landmines and other kinds of roadside bombs are a major threat to Coalition troops serving overseas. And even though combat operations in Afghanistan are coming to a close in the near future, military planners and developers are still looking for ways to address the kinds of threats that are all too common in these fields of engagement.

One such developer is U.S. defense contractor Oshkosh Defense, which recently unveiled its new M-ATV, an armored vehicle specially designed to resist blasts from IEDs and mines. This specialized, high-tech troop transport detects explosives using special ground penetrating radar and a 12-wheeled mineroller which attaches to the front. But now, the company is going a step further.

M-ATV_Light_P7A1130_rgb_720x300Oshkosh now claims it wants to move soldiers even further from the danger zone by putting them in another vehicle entirely and making the minesweeping truck drive itself. For the past decade, the company has been developing an autonomous driving technology called TerraMax. This self-driving system can be applied to vehicles already on the road, and was unveiled during the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge.

It’s now equipped with radar and LIDAR, which uses lasers to detect nearby objects, along with a drive-by-wire system that electronically controls engine speed, transmission, braking, and steering. The system does more than steer and hit the throttle and brakes. It can intelligently control a central tire inflation system and driveline locks to navigate deep sand or mud, all without any input from the operator.

terramax-inline2Similar to the technology that powers Google’s self-driving cars, TerraMax is adapted for use in much tougher conditions. But whereas Google and big auto manufacturers can carefully map roads, lane markings, and speed limit signs before its vehicles are even on the road, Oshkosh doesn’t have those advantages. It’s vehicles must navigate hostile terrain in territories that have not been thoroughly mapped and imaged.

So it made TerraMax capable of combining overhead imagery from satellites and planes with standard military maps generated through geographic information systems. That lets soldiers define roads and other obstacles, much like with a commercial GPS system. Once given a defined course, the vehicles can navigate themselves while operators set things like vehicle speed and following distance.

M-ATV_withTerraMax_J4A1330_720x300-CO1Granted, these aren’t entirely autonomous vehicles. Whenever a convoy reaches an impasse  of some kind, the M-ATV will need to alert an operator and ask what to do. However, it is still an impressive system that achieves two key objectives. One, it allows the military to move more cargo with fewer personnel; and two, it makes a convoy look like it’s carrying more personnel than it really is, which is likely to deter attacks.

Oshkosh’s unmanned vehicle technology is still in testing, but the company has spent the last three years working with the Marine Corp Warfighting Lab and the Office of Naval Research to get it ready for the battlefield. And while the technology is currently being developed for combat vehicles, it could also be used in civilian settings – like autonomous snow clearing at airports or police bomb disposal units.

mfc-amas-photo-02-hThough Coaltion forces are drawing down their presence in Afghanistan, Oshkosh’s and other unmanned ground vehicle concepts will likely be used in conflicts around the world in the years to come. Company representatives gave demonstrations of the technology at Eurosatory 2014, a defense industry trade show, and say they received positive feedback from other nations as well.

And it is only one of several military-grade autonomous technology project currently in development. Lockheed Martin is also working on the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System (AMAS), which also allows for autonomous or semi-autonomous driving. With the development of unmanned systems showing no signs of slowing down, autonomous-vehicle technology is likely to advance considerably in the coming years.

And be sure to check out this video of Oshkosh showcasing the M-ATV and TerraMax system at Eurosatory 2014:


Sources: wired.com, oshkoshdefense.com, humanisticrobotics.com

The Future is Here: The Wearable Landmine Detector

landmine1In certain developing nations, landmines are a terrible scourge that cause countless deaths and injuries. In most cases, the landmines are forgotten relics, the leftover remnants of civil wars, terrorist campaigns and national liberation efforts. Have been buried in unmarked areas and forgotten, many of the victims that come across these little packages of death do so entirely by accident.

Over the past century, the situation has become such that a ban was placed on their sale and in 1997 – officially known as the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention or Ottawa Treaty (my old hometown, where the treaty was signed). However, banning the manufacture and sale of the devices addresses the problem at only one end, and does not address the many thousands of mines that have to be found and disposed of.

landmine_problemIn Colombia, for instance, some 10,000 have been maimed by anti-personnel devices since 1990, putting the country second only to Afghanistan in the total number of deaths and injuries associated with landmines. This is due to Colombia’s long guerrilla war, where groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have used mines to protect their bases and drug plantations.

The only real solution, of course, is to clear the mines and destroy them – a process that is now under way. In the meantime, however, people are still exposed to danger, and there’s a need for technology that helps people walk through rural areas without constant fear. Enter the SaveOneLife, a wearable landmine detector you slip into your shoe that may save your life.

saveonelifeDesigned by Lemur Studio, a design firm in Bogotá, the detector alerts the wearer if an explosive device is within a few feet of their path. It’s aimed at troops, people eradicating illicit crops (i.e. coca leaves and poppies), and farmers, all people who have to deal with landmines on a regular basis. Currently in the conceptual phase, the studio is looking for funding and support to get it built.

The detector consists of a coil printed on a thin conductive material that produces an electromagnetic field. This field in turn detects other electromagnetic fields that are emitted by large pieces metal nearby. If it finds a mine within the wearer’s proximity, the device sends a signal to a wristband, telling the wearer to watch out or change direction.

saveonelife2Iván Pérez, Lemur’s creative director, is currently presenting the idea to Colombia’s military, who he hopes will fund development. But of course, the device is intended for use far beyond the armed forces, ensuring that there are no more accidental victims. As Pérez himself explained:

The device was created with the goal of saving a life, hence the name, first by the families of the victims and second for the cost effects of military forces by the loss of his men in combat. We would like many people to benefit from it, not just people in the armed forces but also peasants and workers. We hope that some company or government wants to give us the support we need to complete the project and bring it to reality.

The idea has been nominated for several design prizes. And if funded, is likely to be adopted for use by NGOs, medics, engineers, civilians and military forces worldwide. But even if Pérez and his studio are not endorsed by the Colombian government (which is unlikely given the problem of landmines), an international crowdfunding campaign is likely to succeed.

landmine2After all, the problem of landmines is one that cuts across nations, organizations, and people of all walks of life, and a device that helps deal with this problem is likely to draw a lot of attention and interest. Being able to tackle the problem of forgotten ordinance and hidden dangers at the other end of the things will be a big step in helping to eliminating this dangerous legacy.

Source: fastcoexist.com

 

The Future is Here: AirMule’s Autonomous Demo Flight

airmule1Vertical Take-Off and Landing craft have been the subject of military developers for some time. In addition to being able to deploy from landing strips that are damaged or small for conventional aircraft, they are also able to navigate terrain and land where other craft cannot. Add to that the ability to hover and fly close to the ground, and you have a craft that can also provide support while avoiding IEDs and landmines.

One concept that incorporates all of these features is the AirMule, a compact, unmanned, single-engine vehicle that is being developed by Tactical Robotics in Israel. In January of 2013, the company unveiled the prototype which they claimed was created for the sake of supporting military personnel,  evacuating the wounded, and conducting remote reconnaissance missions.

airmule-1Now, less than a year later, the company conducted a demonstration with their prototype aircraft recently demonstrated its ability to fly autonomously, bringing it one step closer to carrying out a full mission demo. During the test, which took place in December, the craft autonomously performed a vertical take-off, flew to the end of a runway, then turned around on the spot and flew back to its starting point.

All the while, it maintained altitude using two laser altimeters, while maintaining positioning via a combination of GPS, an inertial navigation system, and optical reference to markers on the ground. These autonomous systems, which allow it to fly on its own, can also be countermanded in favor of remote control, in case a mission seems particularly harry and requires a human controller.

airmule-0In its current form, the AirMule possesses many advantages over other VTOL craft, such as helicopters. For starters, it weighs only 770 kg (1,700 lb) – as opposed to a Bell UH-1 empty weights of 2,365 kg (5,215 lbs) – can carry a payload of up to 640 kg (1,400 lb), has a top speed of 180 km/h (112 mph), and can reach a maximum altitude of 12,000 ft (3,658 m).

In short, it has a better mass to carrying capacity ratio than a helicopter, comparable performance, and can land and take-off within an area of 40 square meters (430.5 sq ft), which is significantly smaller than what a manned helicopter requires for a safe landing. The internal rotor blades are reportedly also much quieter than those of a helicopter, giving the matte-black AirMule some added stealth.

BD_atlasrobotPlans now call for “full mission demonstrations” next year, utilizing a second prototype that is currently under construction. And when complete, this vehicle and those like it can expected to be deployed to many areas of the world, assisting Coalition and other forces in dirty, dangerous environments where landmines, IEDs and other man-made and natural hazards are common.

Alongside machines like the Alpha Dog, LS3 or Wildcat, machines that were built by Boston Dynamics (recently acquired by Google) to offer transport and support to infantry in difficult terrain, efforts to “unman the front lines” through the use of autonomous drones or remote-controlled robots continue. Clearly, the future battlefield is a place where robots where will be offering a rather big hand!

 

And be sure to check this video of the AirMule demonstration, showing the vehicle take-off, hover, fly around, and then come in for a landing:


Sources: gizmag.com, tactical-robotics.com