“When you start looking at the mid-term, five to 10 years, we start talking about tapping into external systems,” said Mark Mazzara, robotics interoperability lead for the Army’s Program Executive Office – Combat Support and Combat Service Support at Detroit Arsenal, Michigan.
Mazzara was a panelist, April 8, at the National Defense Industrial Association Ground Robotics Capabilities Conference and Exhibition in Crystal City, Virginia, where he discussed the path toward autonomous capabilities.
Autonomous vehicles will be able to operate without direct human supervision and are a step up from unmanned vehicles, which are typically controlled remotely. Today, unmanned aerial systems, for instance, have remote operators. In contrast, autonomous vehicles would be operated robotically.
The process to reach the goal of autonomous capabilities is a three-phase approach, Mazzara said, starting with driver-safety and driver-assist technologies that are upgrades to vehicles.
Mazzara explained that is followed by basic autonomy capabilities, which then lay the foundation for the third phase, a fully autonomous tactical vehicle.
The Army wants its Unmanned Ground Vehicle Interoperability Profile, or IOP, to enable this “evolutionary approach toward tactical vehicle autonomy,” he said.
“In the far term, we start talking about more ubiquitous interoperability between the robots and external systems,” Mazzara said.
Today, semi-autonomous systems are used to clear mines, provide surveillance, convoy supplies and acquire targets, among many other things.
To reach autonomous capability, the Army needs incremental hardware and software enhancements to existing systems/chassis; sensor and payload upgrades; modularity; open architecture in IOP, or, in- and out-processing software; standardization; miniaturization and light weight; and, intelligent behavior.
One conference attendee said the problems of developing a fully autonomous vehicle were complex and it might take 30 years.
Another conference panelist predicted that in possibly 10 years, the Army might have a rudimentary system that could recognize markings or patterns, especially in open terrain, to operate autonomously.
To reach that point, Mazzara recommended coordination with stakeholders, keeping industry informed and stressing the value of IOP development. The profile would benefit everyone in the defense community, he said.