Army & Marines Testing Lead/Follow Driverless Vehicle Systems

Driverless tactical vehicles navigate during a field test. (Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin)
Driverless tactical vehicles navigate during a field test. (Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin)
Driverless tactical vehicles navigate during a field test. (Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin)

The United States military is an early adopter and highly visible champion of both unmanned aerial vehicles and all types of robotics such as the portable and throwable robots used in Afghanistan and Iraq. So it’s no surprise that the U.S. military is also taking the lead in driverless vehicle testing. Recently, the U.S. Army added driverless trucks to its expanding robotic technologies.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Army, in partnership with Lockheed Martin, demonstrated self-driving vehicle technology designed to help keep soldiers out of hostile environments. The Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System (AMAS) gives just about any military vehicle the ability to autonomously navigate through both urban and rural environments. In its demo, the AMAS system successfully negotiated around pedestrians, intersections, and oncoming traffic. The demonstration was held at Fort Hood by the Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) and Lockheed Martin. Watch the video:

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This latest development in lead/follow driverless tech began in 2012 when Lockheed Martin received the contract for the development, integration, and testing of the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System (AMAS). This multiplatform kit integrates low-cost sensors and control systems onto U.S. Army and Marine Corps tactical vehicles to assist drivers or enable autonomous operation in convoys. The kit was designed from the beginning to be low-cost and essentially platform-independent, with a simple, single-button activation. The system is designed so that it doesn’t interfere with drivers who choose to drive their vehicle manually.

The big idea behind AMAS is the development of a system capable of working on a large variety of military vehicles that can autonomously control convoy vehicles to significantly reduce crew fatigue, eliminate rear-end collisions, enhance operator situational awareness, and enable a more effective response to attack. The AMAS system includes a LIDAR laser-ranging sensor and a GPS receiver, and can be installed on almost any tactical vehicle. For the Fort Hood demonstration, the AMAS kit was installed on M915 trucks and Palletized Loading System (PLS) vehicles.

According to Lockheed Martin, the AMAS passed its tests with flying colors, and involved the driverless tactical vehicles navigating hazards and obstacles such as road intersections, oncoming traffic, stalled and passing vehicles, pedestrians, and traffic circles in both urban and rural test areas. Of course, Lockheed Martin isn’t the only manufacturer getting into the leader/follower driverless system game as Volvo Trucks has already demonstrated their lead/follow system for commercial convoy deployment.

Like any driverless application, vehicles in a lead/follow system must know everything about their surroundings and position, and use equipment and sensors such as radar, LIDAR, GPS, computer vision, and inertial technology. Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths. Sensors developed and manufactured by KVH, such as the DSP-1750 high performance fiber optic gyro (FOG) and the DSP-1760 single- or multi-axis FOGs, can monitor pitch, roll, and yaw, and depending upon the product integrated, may also be measuring changes in velocity, in turn providing vehicle navigation support. Some platforms update their navigation solution in real time based on the inertial input from KVH sensors such as the 1750 inertial measurement unit (IMU), allowing the vehicles to keep track of their position even when conditions change or when they enter uncharted environments, or when GPS is jammed or otherwise not available. Visit the KVH website for more information about inertial sensors and FOGs.

About Pam Cleveland 29 Articles
Manager, Inertial Navigation Marketing and Global Proposals

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