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Unmanned Vehicles Help Save Lives

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2004 – The soldier touches the laptop screen, programming the route for an unmanned ground vehicle. Miles away, the vehicle begins its journey. As the robot maneuvers through the terrain, the soldier watches its progress on his screen.

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Army Master Sgt. Frank French, Army Research Lab, uses the operator control unit to program a route for an experimental unmanned vehicle. Photo by K.L. Vantran

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The Demo III robot is the Army Research Lab's newest experimental unmanned vehicle. The XUVs are a test bed for autonomous mobility research and experimentation directly relevant to military transformation efforts, according to Army Master Sgt. Frank French, a research, development, testing, and experimentation noncommissioned officer for the lab who also is a tank crewmember.

The goal in this case, French noted, is for the vehicle to serve as a scout and conduct route reconnaissance. As the Demo III rolls through the terrain, it gathers data on its surroundings.

"The soldier plans a mission for the robot through the operator control unit (computer)," said French. "If the vehicle runs into trouble, it can send a message back that it needs help. The soldier can then turn on the cameras (mounted on the vehicle), take a look around, execute a plan, and the robot will resume its mission."

Since 1998, the lab's robotics program has been developing advanced technology for early insertion into the current and future force. Live experiments with the unmanned vehicles are part of the robotics program. These tests have given soldiers hands-on experience with the technology of autonomous mobility and provided researchers with invaluable feedback about human factor issues and user needs, as well as ideas for advancing the technology.

The first two unmanned vehicles were rolled out in September 1999 during troop exercises at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The following year, troops at Fort Knox, Ky., put the vehicles to the test during day and night operations. The most recent testing, last month, examined advances in tactical and cooperative behaviors of unmanned vehicles.

The ultimate goal is to save lives, said French.

"Many missions are extremely dangerous," he added. "If we can proficiently send a system (into a dangerous area) - regardless of what it is and it helps achieve the goal, we've reduced the threat to the individual soldier, which is extremely beneficial."

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Related Sites:
DoD Transformation
Army Research Lab
Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
Fort Knox, Ky.

Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe Demo III is the Army Research Lab's newest experimental unmanned vehicle. It is often sent instructions from an operator control unit that is housed in a Humvee. Photo by K.L. Vantran  
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