Cost-saving Pilot Programs to Support Warfighter Autonomy
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 19, 2013 A call from the Defense Department to government labs for autonomous technology ideas that support the warfighter has been answered with seven initiatives.
Chosen from more than 50 submissions, the selected ideas will be tested in the Autonomy Research Pilot Initiative, officials said.
"We believe autonomy and autonomous systems will be very important for how we operate in the future,” said Al Shaffer, acting assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering. Autonomous systems are capable of functioning with little or no human input or supervision.
“If we had better autonomous systems for route clearance in Afghanistan, we could offload a lot of the dangerous missions that humans undertake with autonomous systems, so we have to make a big push in autonomy," Shaffer said.
The pilot research initiative’s goal is to advance technologies that will result in autonomous systems that provide more capability to warfighters, lessen the cognitive load on operators and supervisors, and lower overall operational cost, explained Jennifer Elzea, a DOD spokeswoman.
“The potential cross-cutting advances of this initiative in multiple domains provide an exciting prospect for interoperability among the military services, and potentially [in] meeting future acquisitions requirements,” she said. “The seven projects are at the fundamental cutting edge of the science of autonomy. The projects also integrate several scientific disciplines [such as] neurology [and] mimetics.”
The seven projects are not looking at autonomous weapons systems, but rather are investigating autonomous systems for potential capabilities such as sensing and coordination among systems, Elzea noted.
The projects focus on cost savings to DOD, critical in a time of budget cuts, Shaffer said.
The program for the initiatives is estimated to cost about $45 million in a three-year period, which is not considered to be a lot of money for a government research program, DOD officials said.
"We are trying to -- especially as we go through this tough budget period -- incentivize our younger work force,” Shaffer said. “Scientists work to solve problems, and what we are doing with this project is we've challenged our in-house researchers to come up with topics that will help us better understand how to do autonomous systems."
When the pilot initiatives are completed, DOD will have the intellectual property to generate a prototype or to provide to industry to produce the systems, officials said.
The seven initiatives are:
-- Exploiting Priming Effects in Autonomous Cognitive Systems: Develops machine perception that is relatable to the way a human perceives an environment. (Navy Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence, Army Research Laboratory)
-- Autonomous Squad Member: Integrates machine semantic understanding, reasoning and understanding, perception into a ground robotic system. (Army Research Laboratory, Naval Research Laboratory, Navy Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence)
-- Autonomy for Adaptive Collaborative Sensing: Develops intelligent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability for sensing platforms to have capability to find and track targets. (Air Force Research Laboratory, Army Research Laboratory; Naval Research Laboratory)
-- Realizing Autonomy via Intelligent Adaptive Hybrid Control: Develops flexible unmanned aerial vehicle operator interface, enabling the operator to "call a play" or manually control the system. (Air Force Research Laboratory, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, Naval Research Laboratory, Army Research Laboratory)
-- Autonomy for Air Combat Missions, Mixed Human/Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Teams: Develops goal-directed reasoning, machine learning and operator interaction techniques to enable management of multiple team UAVs. (Air Force Research Laboratory, Naval Research Laboratory, Naval Air Warfare Center, Army Research Laboratory)
-- A Privileged Sensing Network-Revolutionizing Human-Autonomy Integration: Develops integrated human sensing capability to enable the human-machine team. (Army Research Laboratory, Army Tank Automotive Research Center, Air Force Research Laboratory)
-- Autonomous Collective Defeat of Hard and Deeply Buried Targets: Develops small UAV teaming algorithms to enable systems to autonomously search a cave. (Air Force Research Laboratory, Army Research Laboratory, Defense Threat Reduction Agency)