USA — Army testing rugged, autonomous robot vehicle

ARLINGTON, Va. (June 2, 2010) — The U.S. Army’s Autonomous Plat­form Demon­stra­tor, or APD, is a 9.6-ton, six-wheeled, hybrid-elec­tric robot­ic vehi­cle cur­rent­ly under­go­ing devel­op­men­tal and mobil­i­ty test­ing at Aberdeen Prov­ing Ground, Md.; the demon­stra­tor vehi­cle rep­re­sents the state of the art in unmanned ground vehi­cle mobil­i­ty tech­nol­o­gy.

Autonomous Platform Demonstrator
Autonomous Plat­form Demon­stra­tor
Source: US Army
Click to enlarge

With its advanced hybrid-elec­tric dri­ve train, the 15-foot-long vehi­cle, being devel­oped by the U.S. Army Tank Auto­mo­tive Research, Devel­op­ment and Engi­neer­ing Cen­ter, or TARDEC, can achieve speeds of over 50mph.

When equipped with its autonomous nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem, the APD is con­fig­ured with GPS way­point tech­nol­o­gy, an iner­tial mea­sure­ment unit and com­put­er algo­rithms which enable it to move autonomous­ly at speeds up to 50mph while avoid­ing obsta­cles in its path.

“The vehi­cle has obsta­cle detec­tion and avoid­ance tech­nol­o­gy,” said Dr. Jim Over­holt, senior research sci­en­tist in robot­ics, Tank Auto­mo­tive Research, Devel­op­ment and Engi­neer­ing Cen­ter.

The mobil­i­ty test­ing is aimed at advanc­ing and devel­op­ing the robot’s abil­i­ty to maneu­ver at high­er speeds while main­tain­ing extreme ter­rain-abil­i­ty at low­er speeds.

“We’ve run it through cours­es, slope test­ing and brake test­ing,” said Chris Ostrows­ki, asso­ciate direc­tor for Vehi­cle Elec­tron­ics and Archi­tec­tures at TARDEC.

The APD is cur­rent­ly test­ing high-speed maneu­ver­abil­i­ty, such as lane chang­ing. “This is a chal­leng­ing con­trols prob­lem with a skid steer vehi­cle. We want the robot to be sta­ble when per­form­ing maneu­vers like this, but we also want it to retain the oth­er mobil­i­ty char­ac­ter­is­tics that it pos­sess­es at low­er speeds,” said Ostrows­ki.

Oth­er mobil­i­ty char­ac­ter­is­tics include the abil­i­ty to climb a one-meter step, nav­i­gate a 60-per­cent slope, and piv­ot turn in place.

Being a series hybrid-elec­tric vehi­cle, the APD is pro­pelled by six in-hub elec­tric motors and has a diesel gen­er­a­tor which charges its lithi­um ion bat­ter­ies.

“The state-of-the-art hybrid-elec­tric dri­ve train is just one of the mobil­i­ty tech­nolo­gies we are demon­strat­ing with this plat­form,” said Andrew Ker­brat, APD project man­ag­er, TARDEC.

Oth­er tech­nolo­gies being demon­strat­ed include advanced sus­pen­sion sys­tems, ther­mal and pow­er man­age­ment sys­tems, robot­ic safe­ty sys­tems, and light­weight hull tech­nolo­gies.

“We’ve made a lot of progress with this plat­form in a short time peri­od. From con­cept to wheels on the ground was just a shade over two years, and in the eight months since then, we’ve dri­ven almost 3,000 kilo­me­ters and have demon­strat­ed 95 per­cent of the met­rics that we were try­ing to show with this plat­form,” said Ker­brat.

APD is the mobil­i­ty plat­form being used by the Robot­ic Vehi­cle Con­trol Archi­tec­ture, or RVCA Army Tech­nol­o­gy Objec­tive, also out of TARDEC. Work­ing with PEO-Inte­gra­tion, RVCA has inte­grat­ed a suite of sys­tem con­trol, dis­play and sens­ing hard­ware and soft­ware onto APD that allow it to be con­trolled real-time by a Sol­dier, or oper­ate in an autonomous mode.

“It uses a vari­ety of sen­sors and a Ladar — a laser/radar scan­ning radar that can detect mov­ing objects at dis­tances,” said Over­holt. Addi­tion­al­ly, RVCA pro­vides Recon­nais­sance Sur­veil­lance and Tar­get Acqui­si­tion capa­bil­i­ties.

“It has a four-meter mast with a sen­sor ball on top so it goes up pret­ty high and can see out quite a ways,” said Chris Ostrows­ki.

“When you com­bine the auton­o­my and con­trol capa­bil­i­ties pro­vid­ed by RVCA with the extreme mobil­i­ty char­ac­ter­is­tics of APD, it allows the Sol­dier oper­a­tor to quick­ly deploy a mis­sion pay­load pre­cise­ly where he wants it, and over some very tough ter­rain,” said Ker­brat.

“The bot­tom line is that we are pro­vid­ing the Sol­dier with a sig­nif­i­cant capa­bil­i­ty that will assist him in the per­for­mance of his mis­sion, while keep­ing him safer in the process.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)