Forget McDonalds and minimum wage blowback, the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) is set to send a convoy of vehicles along a stretch of Interstate 69 in Michigan as part of an initial testing of driverless military vehicle equipment on public roadways. The autonomous technology, designed to "save the lives of soldiers serving overseas," is the latest step for the army as it progresses towards its goal of unmanned Abrams tanks and helicopters.
This road test follows the successful demostration of a seven vehicle unmanned convoy traveling at speeds of more than 40 mph for a group of senior Army and industry leaders.
As Stars & Stripes reports, a convoy of U.S. Army vehicles will cruise along a stretch of Interstate 69 in Michigan as part of an initial testing of driverless military vehicle equipment on public roadways.
Representatives from the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center and the Michigan Department of Transportation held public information sessions on the testing Monday in eastern Michigan.
In late June, the vehicles will test a piece of technology that's critical in the development and testing of driverless and connected vehicles, the Times Herald of Port Huron reported.
Six radio transmitters will be set up along Interstate 69 to allow for groups of five vehicles to broadcast speed, distance, and traffic issues as directed over the frequency, said Alex Kade, chief system architect in ground vehicle robotics for the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center.
If the testing is successful, the technology could save the lives of soldiers serving overseas, according to officials.
Kade said the advancement of driverless vehicles could help cut down on accidents and dangerous combat situations for soldiers, especially in places where bombs and improvised explosive devices could be hidden.
The stretch of I-69 in St. Clair and Lapeer counties in Michigan was chosen for the testing because of its proximity to an international border crossing and to the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center's headquarters at the U.S. Army Detroit Arsenal in Warren, said Doug Halleaux, the center's public affairs officer.
Interstate 69 will remain open to traffic during the testing period.
The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center's 30-Year Ground Vehicle Strategy "introduces scalable autonomy that will serve as a force multiplier and augment the capabilities of Soldiers," said Dr. Paul D. Rogers, director of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, known as TARDEC.
This new technology is capable of making almost every military vehicle an optionally-manned vehicle. As far as removing the assistant driver, "I believe we can do that now with the autonomous capability that we'll be integrating into our vehicle systems," according to Rogers. "It's a mature capability that is ready to go into a program of record and could be fielded in the 2025 timeframe."
Removing both drivers is about two years behind that in research and development.
As the official US Army site concludes, while autonomous vehicle convoys made up of troop-carrying vehicles like the Humvee and cargo-carrying vehicles like the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck are a huge leap forward, TARDEC also has its sights set on vehicles that are weapons platforms, such as the Abrams tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Stryker.
TARDEC will be experimenting with manned and unmanned teaming so that maybe four manned Abrams tanks could team up with four that are unmanned. The unmanned tanks could perform screening operations to protect the flanks or could operate at point in front. It's still a future concept that's probably 20 years away, Rogers said.
Another exciting possibility is TARDEC's exploration of manned or unmanned aircraft teaming up with unmanned ground vehicles. That development is a lot closer in time, he said, with demonstrations coming up at the end of this year and on into next.
Rogers compared these manned-unmanned teaming systems to outdoorsmen who rely on their mules or hunting dogs for survival.
A third endeavor TARDEC is exploring is the use of unmanned helicopters to deliver unmanned ground vehicles into a dangerous environment that may not only contain extremists, but also an extremely unfriendly environment containing chemical, biological or radiological hazards.
"It's no place you'd want to send a Soldier," he said, adding that once those unmanned vehicles are dropped off, their sensors could immediately stream data about the environment via satellite or command link.
The big question is, how long before the trucks, tanks, and choppers become self-aware?