More and more robots are becoming more autonomous all the time, especially military vehicle bots like planes and ships. Now Lockheed Martin has just completed a demo mission with two completely autonomous robotic vehicles performing resupply, reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition.
The "Extending the Reach of the Warfighter through Robotics" capability assessment at Fort Benning, Georgia, was conducted in cooperation with the US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC). The robotic vehicles were Lockheed's K-MAX unmanned helicopter and its Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) unmanned ground vehicle equipped with a Gyrocam optical sensor for surveillance.
Lockheed Martin has completed a fully autonomous mission demonstration with two completely autonomous robotic vehicles performing resupply, reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition. Shown here, a Lockheed Martin K-MAX unmanned helicopter delivers a Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) unmanned ground vehicle to a simulated battlefield. There the SMSS, equipped with a Gyrocam optical sensor for surveillance, will complete the resupply and then scan the "hostile" area for enemy forces, transmitting images to a remote operator.
(Source: Lockheed Martin)
Both vehicles had already been deployed extensively before being brought together for last month's demonstration. K-MAX, manufactured by Kaman Aerospace Corporation, was the first unmanned aircraft to deliver cargo in the battlefield for the US Marine Corps during 2011. It can lift 6,000 lb of cargo at sea level, or 4,000 lb at around 15,000 ft. The SMSS is the biggest unmanned vehicle that's ever been deployed with US ground forces; that was in Afghanistan during 2011. It's a six-wheeled, squad-sized autonomous vehicle designed for transport and logistical support for special, early entry, and light ground forces. Both robots can be controlled remotely via satellite or line-of-sight communications, as well as operate autonomously.
The Fort Benning demonstration simulated an autonomous resupply mission to aid soldiers who were defending a village. During the demonstration, the K-MAX helicopter flew the SMSS in a sling into a "hostile" area outside the village. Once it completed the resupply, the SMSS traveled to an observation point. There, it raised its Gyrocam 9-inch mid-wave sensor and scanned for enemy forces. You can watch a video of the entire demonstration, including shots of what the Gyrocam "sees," below.
Lockheed says that, in an actual mission, if the Gyrocam's images revealed enemy forces, the remote operator would notify the ground commander, who would then decide what action to take. In the demonstration, a safety pilot rode onboard the K-MAX autonomous helicopter, but did not operate the controls at any time. A second, similar demonstration was conducted operating the robotic vehicles remotely.
In the video, Don Nimblett, business development manager for Lockheed's unmanned ground vehicles, says the idea of combining robotic vehicles in a single mission is to give soldiers in the middle of a battlefield one less thing to worry about, and free them up for the critical tasks that are required in combat operations.