Eric Sofge of Popular Science reports that there is a good possibility that the United States' exit from Afghanistan could be aided by self-guided robot trucks. Lockheed's system, the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System (AMAS), could eventually enter the commercial world as well.
Whether Lockheed can squeeze its ground bots into the waning days of Operation Enduring Freedom will depend on a series of demonstrations throughout the year. Last month, the United States Armys Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) and Lockheed Martin pulled off the first of those demos, sending a convoy of robot vehicles through rural and urban environments at Fort Hood, Texas. The driverless trucks dealt with intersections, pedestrians, oncoming traffic, and stalled vehicles, all without human intervention or assistance. Thats according to Lockheed Martin, at least?the media is rarely invited to these types of demonstrations, and notifications of results are released long after the event.
Still, this is a milestone 14 years in the making. The pursuit of driverless military convoys is older, in fact, than the war in Afghanistan. In 2000, Congress mandated that (emphasis mine), It shall be a goal of the Armed Forces to achieve the fielding of unmanned, remotely-controlled technology such that by 2015, one-third of the operational ground combat vehicles of the Armed Forces are unmanned. DARPA, the Pentagons research wing, took up the challenge, launching two driverless vehicle competitions (or three, really, since the first Grand Challenge, in 2004, ended without a winner). Other military robot vehicle projects were funded, ranging from staid autonomous cargo haulers to the MULE Armed Robot Vehicle, a driverless weapons platform whose articulated wheels let it rear up to lurch over cars, or hunker down to provide cover for humans.
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