WARREN, Mich. (Dec. 16, 2014) – Army Technology Magazine interviewed Dr. Paul D. Rogers, director of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center at the Detroit Arsenal here. Rogers provides executive management to deliver advanced technology solutions for all Department of Defense ground systems and combat support equipment.
Army Technology: Over the past 10 years, robotics, or autonomy-enabled systems, have gone from a novelty to an asset among Soldiers. What is the current view of autonomy-enabled systems in the field?
Rogers: One of the greatest threats to our Servicemen and [Service]women in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the roadside bomb. For more than a decade of war, we’ve witnessed how unmanned systems have been effective at keeping our Soldiers at safe distances from this danger. As we plan for the future, we’ve determined that advanced autonomy-enabled technologies will play an even greater role in keeping our Soldiers safe. Not by replacing them, but by providing a continuum of capabilities that will augment and enable them, while filling some of the Army’s most challenging capability gaps.
We’ve put a lot of work into developing a 30-year ground vehicle strategy, and user understanding and acceptance of autonomy-enabled technologies is vital for the Army to realize the strategy’s full value. With today’s fast-paced operational tempo, the Army experiences a lot of accidents due to driver inattentiveness, external distractions and fatigue. In the short term, the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System technology, successfully demonstrated several times this year by TARDEC and Lockheed Martin, can solve these problems by providing our drivers with viable options, up to and including: conducting manned or optionally-manned missions; utilizing a suite of driver-assist features, such as adaptive cruise control, collision-mitigating braking, lane-keeping assist, electronic stability and rollover warnings; or operating in the fully autonomous mode.
The [Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System] kit can be installed on many military ground vehicle platforms, providing driver-assist safety enhancements that are easily understood by the drivers. Our goal is to ease the cognitive and/or physical burden placed on our Soldiers, and augment human performance to better enable mission accomplishment. Guided by the 30-Year Ground Vehicle Strategy, we will continue to integrate more scalable autonomy-enabled features into our ground vehicle systems in the future.
Army Technology: What is the TARDEC 30-Year Ground Vehicle Strategy, and how will it impact autonomy-enabled systems and automation?
Rogers: The strategy is a living document that reflects where technology and ground vehicle capabilities are going over the next 30 years. The strategy helps us gauge what we are trying to achieve, what to invest in, who to partner with, and is comprised of three value streams:
• Shape requirements for future programs of record.
• Develop new capabilities for current ground systems.
• Provide engineering support and services.
The strategy provides an overarching framework to develop, integrate and sustain advanced manned and autonomy-enabled ground system capabilities for the Current and Future Force. The strategy is shaped through TARDEC’s enduring engagement with the: Training and Doctrine Command, our higher headquarters — specifically, the U.S. Army Materiel Command and the Research, Development, and Engineering Command; the Army’s acquisition and programs of record management community; numerous other science and technology organizations across the Department of Defense; industry; and academia.
The next generation of vehicle platforms will feature autonomous capabilities along with modular physical architecture, open electronic architecture for ease of upgrades, common and efficient power trains, and flexible manufacturing for rapid and tailorable production.
Army Technology: Innovation in this area is coming from all sides. How important is the Army’s partnership with industry?
Rogers: Collaborating with partners from industry, academia, other government agencies and across DOD is vital to TARDEC’s ability to integrate technologies and develop advanced capabilities that improve our warfighters’ effectiveness and efficiency. TARDEC is the DOD ground systems integrator. We have highly skilled personnel and unique world-class facilities strategically located in the heart of the automotive industry. Our ties to the auto industry and the defense industrial base in southeast Michigan date back to World War II, and endure to this day. The future of Army ground vehicle systems capabilities depends on continued strategic engagement with these partners.
Our vision is to be the first choice for technology and engineering expertise across the ground vehicle domain and the entry point for industry and academia to bring advanced automotive and autonomous technologies so we can then demonstrate their maturity and operational value to the Army. At the end of the day, everything we do is about getting the best technologies and ground vehicle capabilities into the warfighter’s hands. This is a team effort and our ability to partner with industry and academia, as well as leverage their ideas, is absolutely critical to our success.
Army Technology: What do you want Army scientists and engineers to know as they continue to break new ground in autonomy-enabled technology research?
Rogers: The ever-changing strategic landscape requires flexible, adaptable and integrated technologies that transcend multiple platforms and operational environments. Autonomy-enabled systems deliver capabilities that unburden the Soldier and provide long-term value to the Army. To prevent, shape and win future conflicts in a changing world, Army [science and technology] must deliver timely and technologically-advanced solutions that address our top priority capability gaps and ensure that our Soldiers have the very best equipment available. Autonomy-enabled systems will allow Soldiers to continue to dominate the battlefield, today and tomorrow.
Army Technology: How optimistic is your vision for the future of robotics and autonomous vehicles for the U.S. Army?
Rogers: We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but with TARDEC’s strategy, we are working closely with the user and acquisition communities to enable Army formations and unburden our Soldiers. We’ll proceed with the knowledge that the nation needs the Army to respond anywhere on the globe with tailorable vehicles that can adjust to emerging threats and unpredictable environments. Autonomy-enabled vehicles will reduce accidents while augmenting warfighter capabilities, and increase battlefield mobility and lethality by creating greater stand-off distances from danger, making supply distribution safer and more efficient, and providing the flexibility to adapt to tomorrow’s ever-changing and evolving threats. Nothing can replace the life of a Soldier. Autonomy-enabled systems will help make the Army more expeditionary, keep Soldiers safe and make them more efficient.