Science

DARPA's Crusher Drives Itself, Laughs At Your Puny 'Traffic'

Picture, if you will, the self-driving Prius that Google invented — quiet, safe, sedate, room for five. Now imagine the exact, polar opposite — a six-wheeled, self-navigating robo-truck built for off-roading and ramming, a .50-cal machine gun on its roof and room for zero. That’s the Crusher.

DARPA began development on the Crusher — technically, the Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle and Perceptor Integration System — began in 2006. The $US30 million, 2.7m wide machine is constructed from aluminium and titanium, and powered by a hybrid, Li Ion-Jetta engine. Each of its six wheels if fitted with a 49-inch tyre and a suspension capable of raising and lower each wheel individually by as much as 30 inches. This allows the Crusher to climb vertical walls over 1.2m tall, traverse slopes of more than 40 degrees, and travel along 30-degree embankments. A shock-mounted steel skid plate protects the Crusher’s internal workings in case the truck happens to land on a boulder or tree stump. Its nose is also reinforced for ramming through heavy brush and blockades alike.

All this protection is necessary because the Crusher’s navigation software is designed to get the truck, and its 3600kg of cargo and armour, from point A to point B in the fastest way possible — a straight line. “This vehicle can go into places where, if you were following in a Humvee, you’d come out with spinal injuries,” said Stephen Welby, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, told Stars and Stripes. “Usually vehicles are set up to protect humans. Here, we didn’t have to worry about that.” The Crusher has a top speed of 40km/h.

The Crusher doesn’t just Hulk Smash its way through the terrain, mind you, it learns from what it drives over. “It can read the terrain” and define flat ground, vegetation and obstacles, said Tony Stentz a Carnegie Mellon robotics engineer working on Crusher’s autonomy. During one demonstration, the Crusher didn’t Hulk Smash at all. When it came upon a steep berm at the edge of a tank track, the machine recognised the difficulty in forcing its way up and instead, turned around and scanned for an easier spot to cross.

In addition, the Crusher is outfitted with an advanced sensory suite that is capable of spotting enemy troops at a distance of over two miles. It transmits data from its laser sensors, mapping cameras, infrared cameras and various other video feeds to a remote command post. Thankfully, the command post also controls the .50 cal SAW mounted to the Crusher’s roof as well. According to the Army Times, “a researcher studying the vehicle controlled its cameras and machine gun using an iPod Touch music player”.

The US Department of Defense has no plans to put the Crusher on the front lines in its current form. Instead, it will constitute the base of future designs as part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems initiative. “This could be used as a scout, or a quick-response support vehicle,” Welby said. “With existing cameras we’ve put on there this vehicle is able to see rabbits at long-range, and enemy troops from 4 kilometers away. Imagine sending this to an intersection and letting it sit there to monitor what’s going on for days or weeks.” There’s no word if it will retain the iPod SAW-control. [Crusher Wiki - Stars and Stripes - NREC - Army Times]

from PopularMechanics.com

from the AP

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