Army officials at Fort Benning, Ga., held the first of these experiments in mid July, working with Germany and Turkey to begin developing uniform standards for controlling and operating UGVs in the future.
“The goal of the experiment was for any of the countries to be able to control any of the other country’s assets and see how that would reduce the amount of training that would be necessary if we were doing a NATO-type exercise,” said Paul Bounker, senior computer engineer at the Army’s Tank, Automotive, Research, Development and Engineering Center in Warren, Mich., and a member of the team of NATO experts set up to address interoperability issues in UGVs.
This type of cooperation could be useful in an international disaster situation similar to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that occurred in Japan in 2011, Bounker said.
“They had a lot of difficulty cooling the reactors,” he said. “If we had a robotic system and the Japanese had a compliant system, we could give them our [robotic] arm and they could take that and attach a hose to it and go inside there and basically fill the reactors using the hose as opposed to trying to just dump water from up high.”
The maneuver center at Benning was recently designated as the proponent for ground robotics for the entire Army, said Eddie Davis, deputy director of the MCOE’s Maneuver Battle Lab.
Combat troops have been using small, unmanned robots for the last decade of war, but most systems have been fielded rapidly with little or no commonality between systems, officials maintain. In most cases, units have developed their own tactics, techniques and procedures for employing UGVs in combat operations.
“In a perfect world, we want to have the doctrine and the TTPs established before we give them to soldiers,” Davis said. “With budget cuts, we have got to figure out … where we are getting the big bang for the buck.”
Both the Army and Marine Corps are also working with industry to build commonality across the different platforms, said Mark Mazzara, team lead for System Engineering and Interoperability with in the Robotics Systems Joint Project Office.
“Nothing is interoperable,” he said. “You can’t take a camera off one system and put it on another one.”
The effort now involves more than 60 companies from small firms such as iRobot Corporation, QuinetiQ North America, ReconRobotics Inc. and Macro USA Corp., to giants such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.
The exercise at Benning involved adapting German, Turkish and American equipment so officials could control each other’s UGVs while using them to inspect suspicious packages and mailboxes for improvised explosive devices.
“It went very well,” Bounker said. “All the country controllers were able to control systems provided by other countries.
The hope is that the results of the experiment will encourage other countries to participate in future exercises, officials maintain. If all goes well, the effort could lead to the drafting of a Standard NATO Agreement similar to the one created for 5.56mm ammunition.
“It’s the same thought process of where it makes sense, you standardize for resupply and commonality,” Davis said.