RoboCity: Army plans robots to extend reach, battlefield control

By David Vergun, Army News Service – April 10, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Va. — Once unmanned ground combat vehicles are developed and deployed en masse, the battlefield area controlled by a brigade combat team will increase 10-fold, predicted Don Sando.

Sando, the deputy to the commanding general at the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE), Fort Benning, Georgia, spoke Tuesday during a National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA)-sponsored conference on ground robotics.  He also said that in addition to providing greater lethality, these robots will save lives and will dramatically improve sustainment through autonomous re-supply.

Soldiers working in explosive ordnance disposal have already benefited from ground robots, namely in lives saved, Sando said.  Robots are expected to proliferate throughout the rest of the Army, where they will assist Soldiers with hauling equipment and providing situational awareness.

While unmanned aerial systems have proliferated in recent years, deployment of unmanned ground combat vehicles has lagged, Sando said.  One reason for that is the complexity of designing systems to operate on the ground.  While airspace is relatively uncluttered, ground terrain is more difficult to negotiate, which makes designing unmanned ground systems is more of a challenge.

However, that is about to change as technology to cover the ground has matured, he said.

In January, the Maneuver CoE launched its Army Robotic and Autonomous System Strategy Execution Plan, he said.

The plan created a Robotic Center of Innovation, nicknamed “RoboCity”, at Fort Benning, where maneuver battle lab experiments are now being conducted.

The plan also established the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Project Office for Maneuver of Robotic Autonomous Systems, he said.  Last week, the name of that unit was changed to TRADOC Capability Manager for Robotics and Autonomous Systems.  (TCM  RAS)

Sando said one reason for the name change is that, broadly speaking, robots can be more than just UASs or UGSs.

For example, there are systems being developed to help Soldiers better identify targets on the battlefield.  These are artificial intelligence and machine learning systems that in effect are robotic, he said.

So when Soldiers are being shot at, these software robotic systems will come to their aid, he said. That’s a much broader use than the term “maneuver,” so that’s why the word was removed.

Centralizing the robotic effort at Fort Benning is meant to channel creativity and innovation between Soldiers, academia and industry, he said.

This effort will involve a lot of prototyping and experimentation, he added.

“We want prototypes in the hands of Soldiers and Marines for several months, not days,” he said. “If they don’t want to give it back, it worked. If they say they lost it, that’s fine too, because it means it didn’t work.”

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