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Driverless Convoy Technology May Be Fielded Soon

The same technology that allows Google and Uber to put driverless cars on the road may soon hit the battlefield.

After 14 years of development, Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Autonomous Mobility Applique System, a kit that allows vehicles and convoys to operate with little or no human input, is a strong candidate for rapid fielding, Lockheed's vice president of tactical missiles, Frank St. John, told Military.com.

"We're working right now with [the Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center] and [the Army Tank-automotive & Armaments Command] to find a path to rapidly field some of this capability," St. John said. "It turns out that outside of full-scale conflict, one of the most dangerous things you can do in the Army is drive a truck."

To date, Lockheed's vehicle autonomy kit has been installed on more than nine vehicle types, and the AMAS system has completed more than 55,000 hours of road time.

A first joint demonstration with TARDEC and Lockheed took place in January 2014 at Fort Hood, Texas, where it was used on M915 trucks and the Palletized Loading System flatbed vehicle in convoy configurations. In May 2014, a demonstration at the Department of Energy's Savannah River location in South Carolina featured seven vehicles traveling at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour in a convoy formation.

This summer, St. John said, the AMAS system will feature in Army warfighting experiments, giving soldiers the opportunity to evaluate the technology in the field during normal training scenarios.

"At the end of that experiment, assuming that goes well, I'd look for some sort of early fielding -- 100 units, 200 units -- some sort of action being taken by TARDEC and TACOM to get it out into the field," he said.

The three-part system involves an environment sensor, actuators that move the vehicles and pump the brakes, and a central computer that processes the sensor data and gives driving commands. St. John said demonstrations had proven the system's ability to safely complete tasks including obstacle avoidance, following a lead vehicle, following the road, and maintaining a set distance between convoy vehicles.

Still under development, he said, is software that will allow vehicles to navigate over land to find a specific unit and drop off basic supplies such as food and water, then find their way back to a dispatch location. While the Army has been the primary collaborator on AMAS, St. John said the Marine Corps, which has done its own experiments with unmanned vehicle technology, has received several briefs on Lockheed's technology.

"They're following this pretty closely. They might -- because of this autonomous convoy operation and putting Marines ashore and then having to supply them -- they might be an early adopter of this," he said. "They see the benefit of this almost right off the bat."

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