MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Army has a dream team working on its robotic future

As part of a strategy to develop and deliver new robotics capabilities to future soldiers, Army researchers have partnered with world-renowned experts in industry and academia.

The University of Pennsylvania hosted a series of meetings in Philadelphia, June 5-7, 2018, for principal investigators and researchers from the Army's Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance, or RCTA.


"We are coming together to tell each other what we've done over the last year," said Dr. Stuart Young, a division chief in the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Adelphi, Maryland, and the RCTA's collaborative alliance manager.

Principal investigators and researchers from the Army's Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance meet at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia June 5-7, 2018, to coordinate efforts.(U.S. Army photo by David McNally)

The group formed in 2009 to bring together government, industrial and academic institutions to address research and development required to enable the deployment of future military unmanned ground vehicle systems ranging in size from man-portables to ground combat vehicles.

Partners include:

• General Dynamics Land Systems - Robotics
• Carnegie Mellon University - The Robotics Institute
• Massachusetts Institute of Technology
• Florida State University
• University of Central Florida
• University of Pennsylvania
• QinetiQ North America
• Cal Tech/Jet Propulsion Lab

Young said the laboratory is focused on transitioning new capabilities to industry partners so they can continue to mature them.

"Since this is a basic and applied research program, we'll transition it to them so they can get it into an experimental prototype in development," he said. "Certainly the problem that we are working on is very hard. It is difficult to operate robots in the wild, anywhere in the world, but that's the kind of problem the Army has to solve."

World-renowned robotics researchers from industry, academia and the U.S. Army are part of an alliance to explore futuristic robotics that may lead to new capabilities for the future force.(U.S. Army photo by David McNally)

The Army's vision is to make unmanned systems an integral part of small unit teams.

"We're trying to go from tools to teammates so you can work side-by-side with them," Young said, continuing with, "In order for robots to be teammates, they must operate in unstructured, complex environments.

"And then in order for the robots to be a useful teammate, they have to communicate naturally like a human does," Young said. "We're doing a lot of work in human-robot relationships, understanding concepts in the same way that humans do, trying to get the robots to understand those concepts in the same way so that the teaming can occur more naturally."

Over the eight years of the alliance, researchers have achieved many milestones in the robotics field.

"New methods for robots to autonomously interact with and perceive the outside world have been developed to improve reasoning, situational awareness, trust and mobility in challenging battlefield environments," said Dr. Jaret Riddick, director of the lab's Vehicle Technology Directorate. "In the past eight years, researchers have teamed with academia and industry supported by the Robotics CTA to establish robotics technology critical to next generation Army objectives for multi-domain operation."


Geoff Slipher (right), the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Autonomous Systems Division chief speaks with Army researcher Chris Kroninger June 6, 2018, at the Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance review at the University of Pennsylvania.(U.S. Army photo by David McNally)

The alliance conducts research in four technical domains:
  1. Perception: Perceive and understand dynamic and unknown environments, including creation of a comprehensive model of the surrounding world
  2. Intelligence: Autonomously plan and execute military missions; readily adapt to changing environments and scenarios; learn from prior experience; share common understanding with team members
  3. Human-Robot Interaction: Manipulate objects with near-human dexterity and maneuver through 3-D environments
  4. Dexterous Manipulation and Unique Mobility: Manipulate objects with near-human dexterity and maneuver through 3-D environments

"We've certainly come a long way, and yes, we have a long way to go," Young said. "We've made a lot of progress in understanding and developing new theory and techniques for communicating between the robots and the humans. We must generate more novel techniques to be able to address those types of problems."

Researchers said the meetings in Philadelphia were a valuable experience as they continue to plan for a capstone event at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in 2019, where they will demonstrate the culmination of their research achievements to Army leaders.

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.