Among the most dangerous jobs on the battlefield, being the soldier driving the minesweeping truck at the head of convoys is probably the last one you'd want. Your job is to drive over IEDs and landmines, detonating them before the vehicles behind you do. But thanks to a recent advancement in autonomous vehicle technology, these demining trucks will soon drive themselves.
The autonomous ground vehicle from Oshkosh Defence leverages a number of existing platforms and specially developed autonomous systems in its design. It's built on Oshkosh's existing M-ATV MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected): a 12,473kg, heavily armoured tactical vehicle designed specifically to shrug off IED blasts and capable of shooting its way out of most any ambush. It can run for 50km at 50km/h with two flat tyres, and can take a 7.62mm round to its oil and coolant system and still drive for another two miles without fluids.
Slap some ground-penetrating radar and a 12-wheeled demining attachment to the front of it and you've got yourself a rough and rugged mine-clearing vehicle capable of surviving the inevitable concussive impacts of a detonating IED. However, while the truck is likely to survive the explosion, there's still a chance that the driver might be harmed (due to, say, shrapnel, a structural failure, or some other unexpected calamity). That's why Oshkosh plans to remove the driver entirely.
For more than a decade, Oshkosh Defence has been hard at work on the Terramax autonomous driving system. This standalone kit, first developed in 2005 in response to the DoD's announced goal of having one-third of operational ground combat vehicles be unmanned by 2015, the Terramax, is designed to be retrofitted onto a wide array of existing ground vehicles; much in the same way that the Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (ACCUS) works on existing helicopters.
As the Oshkosh website explains:
Designed for use on any tactical wheeled vehicle and backed by thousands of miles of field testing, the Oshkosh TerraMax UGV is capable of supervised autonomous navigation in either a lead or follow role. Its multi-sensor system combines with novel registration techniques to provide accurate positioning estimates without needing to rely on continuous tracking through a lead vehicle or GPS signals.
When equipped with the Oshkosh TerraMax UGV, each vehicle is capable of navigation to the objective independently. This not only facilitates tight convoy formation, but also enables the composition of the convoy to change as demanded by traffic conditions, road blockages or other obstructive situations.
This technology is just the first step in what should become a near ubiquitous shift from piloted to self-guided ground transportation. Similar systems are already popping up in the mining industry and agricultural sector for the more monotonous driving jobs. Heck, even in the consumer market, you could soon get an Audi retrofitted with a self-driving system. Of course, its not the self self-driving car you need to really worry about, it's all the yahoos without self-driving cars around you. [Wired - Wiki]