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News from the National Academies
Date: Jan. 9, 2003
Contacts: Barbara J. Rice, Deputy Director
Christian Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

For Immediate Release

Building Unmanned Ground Vehicles Requires
More Funding, Greater Focus

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Army needs a coherent plan with sufficient resources to develop unmanned ground vehicles for future use on the battlefield, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. A new focus on the integration of technologies also is essential if these vehicles are to operate autonomously and adapt to changing combat situations.

"Both the civilian and military communities are now developing robotic systems with sufficient autonomy to replace humans in dangerous tasks, to increase human capabilities on the battlefield, and to perform laborious and repetitious duties," said Millard F. Rose, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and vice president for research, Radiance Technologies Inc., Huntsville, Ala. "The Army is pursuing many relevant technologies, but unless funding and effort are significantly enhanced, the development of truly revolutionary systems is unlikely before the end of the decade."

Congress mandated in 2000 that at least one of every three future army battle systems be unmanned. The Army aims to use these vehicles to perform reconnaissance, surveillance, and other military operations during combat, which could reduce the number of soldiers placed in harm's way and increase combat effectiveness. Unmanned ground vehicles have the potential to revolutionize the capabilities of Army forces on the battlefield, the report says.

The committee assessed the readiness of technologies being developed by the Army to create four types of vehicles: a "searcher" robot for scouting, monitoring, and recovery operations; a "donkey" unit to move supplies and equipment; an armed unmanned ground vehicle to augment manned vehicles; and a fully autonomous combat vehicle. While the vehicles would differ in degree of autonomy, they all must rely on a complex mobility platform with sensors, computers, and software to navigate unfamiliar terrain.

The Army is in the early stages of developing these systems, and the report provides a road map for further research. Technologies that enable a vehicle to move from one location to another without human intervention should be a top priority for development. Present capabilities cannot yet support an autonomous cross-country trip of tactical significance under combat conditions. The new vehicle must be able to perceive its surroundings, and detect and avoid obstacles both on and off the road. It also should be able to self-monitor and adapt to changing situations without requiring reprogramming in the field.

An integrated design approach should be used to guide future development, the committee said. For example, autonomous mobility requires the integration of perception, communication, and navigation techniques. Current efforts are limited to demonstrating collections of individual technologies rather than using a systems engineering approach to develop and blend systems with tactical significance that can be methodically evaluated in the field.

In addition, the Army should designate a program manager to coordinate the research, development, and acquisition of unmanned ground vehicle systems, the committee added. The manager would serve as the Army's principal advocate for unmanned ground systems and the single point of contact for other relevant development activities.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Army. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Copies of Technology Development of Army Unmanned Ground Vehicles are available from the National Academies Press; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. The cost of the report is $36.00 (prepaid) plus shipping charges of $4.50 for the first copy and $.95 for each additional copy. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
Board on Army Science and Technology

Committee on Army Unmanned Ground Vehicle Technology

Millard F. Rose (chair)
Vice President for Research
Radiance Technologies Inc.
Huntsville, Ala.

Raj K. Aggarwal
Vice President
Advanced Technology Center
Rockwell Collins
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

David E. Aspnes*
Distinguished Professor of Physics
North Carolina State University
Raleigh

John T. Feddema
Distinguished Member of Technical Staff
Sandia National Laboratories
Albuquerque, N.M.

J. William Goodwine Jr.
Assistant Professor
Aerospace and Engineering Department
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Ind.

Clinton W. Kelly III
Senior Vice President
Science Applications International Corp.
McLean, Va.

Larry Lehowicz
Vice President
Quantum Research International
Arlington, Va.

Alan J. McLaughlin
Consultant for Strategic Planning and Advanced Technology,
and Special Assistant to the Director
Lincoln Laboratory
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Lexington

Robin R. Murphy
Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, and
Associate Professor of Cognitive and Neural Science
University of South Florida
Tampa

Malcolm R. O'Neill
Vice President of Operations and Best Practices
Space and Strategic Missiles Sector
Lockheed Martin Corp.
Bethesda, Md.

Ernest N. Petrick
Consultant, and
Vice President
General Dynamics Land Systems (retired)
Detroit

Azriel Rosenfeld
Professor Emeritus
University of Maryland
College Park

Albert A. Sciarretta
President
CNS Technologies Inc.
Springfield, Va.

Steven E. Shladover
Deputy Director
California Partnership for Advanced Transit and Highways
Program
Institute of Transportation Studies
University of California
Berkeley

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

Robert J. Love
Study Director


* Member, National Academy of Sciences