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What Else Can We Do With Autonomous Military Vehicles?

Companies that make UGVs for the military look to expand into the civilian sector

2 min read
What Else Can We Do With Autonomous Military Vehicles?

Do you have a robot car yet? Me neither. The military, on the other hand, has a bunch of them. These UGVs (Unmanned Ground Vehicles) are mostly used for hauling gear, sort of like mules used to, back in the day. Lockheed Martin even had one called MULE. It was a nice idea, getting robots to do this, but it's not simple and it's not cheap, and the military has been cutting back. So, the companies involved have been trying to figure out what else they can do with their UGVs.

Many of these UGVs are totally ready to go, in that they've already been deployed overseas for testing with troops. They're not ready to be driving around streets in public, but in supervised, restricted, or otherwise controlled situations, they're safe and capable. 

Companies like Lockheed and John Deere are exploring a range of different potential markets for their UGVs, most of which fall into those familiar "dull, dirty, or dangerous" categories. Things like autonomous security patrols probably won't surprise you, nor will long term and long range border patrols in remote and rugged and generally nasty terrain. But there may be other, less obvious applications for UGVs, including agriculture, mining, and construction. Both Lockheed and John Deere are actively developing applications like these, even as they continue their military contracts. Personally, I can't wait until I can go down to my local hardware store and buy one of these (skip to 1:00 to see why):

Here's another little surprise: National Defense Magazine spoke to Boston Dynamics president Marc Raibert, who said that his company sees many commercial and public safety applications for its robots. Raibert mentioned the Fukushima accident as an example of where robots could help:

“If we had better robots available during the Fukushima accident it may have been easier and quicker to get things under control,” he said.

Um, commercial applications? I'm just going to assume that Boston Dynamics is going to make me us all BigDogs that we can ride.

[ National Defense Magazine ] via [ Robohub ]

Updated 28 June 2013 9:48 p.m.: Edits made to clarify Marc Raibert's comments.

The Conversation (0)
Image of a combine harvester within a wheat field, harvesting.

Russia is the world's largest wheat exporter, with 20 percent of the world's wheat trade. Combine harvesters that can drive themselves using technology from Russian company Cognitive Pilot are helping to make the harvesting process faster and more efficient.

Cognitive Pilot

The field of automated precision agriculture is based on one concept—autonomous driving technologies that guide vehicles through GPS navigation. Fifteen years ago, when high-accuracy GPS became available for civilian use, farmers thought things would be simple: Put a GPS receiver station at the edge of the field, configure a route for a tractor or a combine harvester, and off you go, dear robot!

Practice has shown, however, that this kind of carefree field cultivation is inefficient and dangerous. It works only in ideal fields, which are almost never encountered in real life. If there's a log or a rock in the field, or a couple of village paramours dozing in the rye under the sun, the tractor will run right over them. And not all countries have reliable satellite coverage—in agricultural markets like Kazakhstan, coverage can be unstable. This is why, if you want safe and efficient farming, you need to equip your vehicle with sensors and an artificial intelligence that can see and understand its surroundings instead of blindly following GPS navigation instructions.

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