The US Army’s Ground Vehicle System Center (GVSC) has developed a standardized software and sensor suite that can transform previously manned track and wheel-based vehicles into unmanned, self-driving machines. According to a report in Breaking Defense, the US Army wants to field a fleet of autonomous unmanned ground vehicles that can operate alongside manned war machines and replace manned convoy trucks.
Currently, the Army has tested their autonomous driving suite, much of which was developed by civilian companies, on 20 different machines ranging from hefty M113 armored personnel carriers to road-ready Humvees. During these tests, vehicles have been turned on without mapping data and been tasked with navigating real-world obstacles safely while also developing and building a map of the terrain they encounter.
“Right now, we’re not giving the systems a lot of a priori data. Basically we’re letting them figure out their environments on their own, because… We assume we might not have GPS,” explained Bernard Theisen, a senior engineer at GVSC. “We could drop a robot in the middle of nowhere with no information [and it would] start building the map.”
The end goal of the Army’s current autonomous vehicle test is to have a mature autonomous software and sensor suite up and running by the time its Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) is put through its paces sometime in the next decade. While the OMFV is scheduled to replace the armored troop transport Bradley Fighting Vehicle, it isn’t difficult to imagine the universality of the Army’s new autonomous driving system extending to other ground-based platforms that comprise the avant-garde of a fighting force.