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Archive for the ‘Disruptive Tech’ Category

Robotics Update: ASI Receives SBIR Funding for Deep Learning Architecture to Support Multiple Sensors in GPS-denied Environments

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019

Mendon, Utah – Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) has been awarded a SBIR Phase I grant from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicles Systems Center (formerly TARDEC) to develop a Deep Learning (DL) architecture that will support sensor fusion in environments with limited, or no, GPS.

“Environmental sensing today typically includes cameras, LiDAR and radar,” said Jeff Ferrin, CTO of ASI. “Each of these devices has a specific purpose, but not all of them work well in every situation. For example, cameras are great at collecting high-resolution color information, but do not provide much useful information in the dark.”  

 

In addition to the challenges faced by cameras in poorly lit or degraded visual environments, LiDAR and radar sensors also have limitations. LiDAR performs well in most light conditions but may yield false positives in heavy rain, fog, snow or dust, due to its use of light spectrum wavelengths. Radar usually penetrates these degraded visual environments, but often lacks spatial resolution.

 

“ASI’s goal is to design a deep learning architecture that fuses information from LiDAR, radar and cameras,” said Ferrin. “We plan to build upon machine learning techniques we have already developed for LiDAR data.”

 

Deep learning is a branch of artificial intelligence and machine learning that allows valuable information to be extracted from large volumes of data. Cameras are often used in deep learning models because of their high output of information in regularly sampled data structures.

 

The case is different for LiDAR and radar. Naturally, these two sensor types do not provide regularly sampled data, making it difficult to formulate problems using current deep learning frameworks. This gap in current research efforts – deep learning for LiDAR and radar – is the focus of this grant.

 

Improved utilization of data from multiple devices can paint a more accurate picture of a vehicle’s surroundings, keeping it safer and making it more efficient. The details of the grant solicitation state, “It is anticipated that harnessing a wide variety of sensors altogether will benefit the autonomous vehicles by providing a more general and robust self-driving system, especially for navigating in different types of challenging weather, environments, road conditions and traffic.”

 

“In the last few years, we have seen a growing need in the world of robotics to advance industry capabilities in machine learning, deep learning, and other artificial intelligence algorithms to improve performance in these challenging environments,” said Ferrin.

 

Details of the Phase I grant awarded to ASI include developing a deep learning architecture that will support sensors that are not vision-based, such as radar and LiDAR, along with supporting sensor fusion. ASI is required to demonstrate the feasibility of the deep learning architecture in a simulation environment, including a road following system that controls an autonomous vehicle, on a course with obstacles and a degraded visual environment.

www.asirobots.com

R2TD: A new tool for an ever-present threat

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUNDS, Md. — Seismic, acoustic and electromagnetic systems work to help Army find one of the oldest forms of field fortification: tunnels.

War is as old as human history. This means a lot of the reactive tactics and protective equipment must evolve in response to an attack becoming strong. As weapons became heavier and deadlier-swords went from bronze, to iron, to alloys of greater hardness and durability-the defense for them would evolve, protective clothing going from very thick fabrics, to leathers, to metals to the hard ceramics and Kevlar we know today.

Terrain use has evolved over time, too. As the stakes continue to rise and objectives evolve, merely taking hills, fields and transportation routes was always the start, but taking, holding and occupying towns and cities for longer periods of time will be key.

This means tunnels. Cities thousands of years old, such as Paris and its 200 miles of tunnels and catacombs, or modern American cities like New York, which has 665 miles of subway tunnels, will make tunnels a consideration of modern urban warfare. Newer cities may not have subways as an afterthought, but as a foundation of their planning. In India and China, for example, subway stations are the root of creating new cities as the population continues to grow.

Tunnels have been used to thwart invaders and penetrate fortifications since there were invaders and fortifications. For example, ancient Romans used tunnels-called qanats-to transport water to sustain their cities. Were any enemy able to find those tunnels, they could do incredible damage to the city of Rome.

Today, military thinkers like those at the Modern War Institute at West Point are considering underground warfare as a given, and they are considering the kind of equipment that would make underground warfighting most effective.

Project Manager Terrestrial Sensors, part of the Program Executive Office – Intelligence, Electronic Warfare & Sensors, has a key piece of tunnel warfare at the ready: Rapid Reaction Tunnel Detection equipment, or R2TD.

After all, to fight in tunnels, you have to find them first.

Dr. Steven Sloan, a research geophysicist with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, has been working with his team on R2TD system for more than half a decade, which is less a piece of equipment than a suite of tools.

“What we’ve found over the years is that there’s no silver bullet that works in all geologies and all situations,” said Sloan. “So, we have multiple, different systems that each have their strengths in different things dependent on the setting that we’re working in, or what the target set is, then we can kind of mix and match to optimize detection.”

R2TD has seismic, acoustic and electromagnetic systems to detect different aspects of underground structures. Seismic to detect movement of dirt, for example. Acoustic to detect open space underneath the ground and electromagnetic to detect infrastructure like cables, wires, nails and even rails.

“The other two systems are actual in-ground permanently or semi-permanently installed, like an underground fence of sensors,” said Sloan. These other two systems are the border tunneling activity detection system-linear and the active seismic imaging system, which can counter adversaries using purpose-built tunnels or existing subsurface infrastructure, and assist in the survey of large areas for perimeter defense and the detection of existing tunnels and other subsurface anomalies, respectively.

“The thing with tunnels is they’re a low-tech counter to a high-tech adversary,” said Sloan. “So all it takes is his time and manpower to build one and there’s not a whole lot out there to stop them. It’s been around centuries and centuries for a lot of different conflicts.”

Sloan and his team know this, and thus they are often upgrading and tweaking the system.

“We’re upgrading the active seismic units that are in theater,” said Sloan. “We bring them back one at a time and we put in new hardware and new software that’s been developed over the last four or five years in there and then put them back over into their respective theaters of operations.”

“If someone was trying the tunnel under a facility to place explosives or something like that, you don’t want to be on the back end of that trying to figure out how it happened after it’s happened,” said Sloan. “It’s more of a preventative measure, or proactive rather than reactive. You won’t use this over every square inch of every facility that you would build. However, if you got some particularly vulnerable facilities in an area or something, some kind of secured facility that you really want to monitor, it’s another tool that you can use.”

By John Higgins, PEO IEW&S

Germany-Based US Army Field New Positioning System

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

ROSE BARRACKS, VILSECK, Germany — Members of Project Manager Positioning Navigation and Timing (PM PNT) landed in Germany in early September with a mission: outfitting Soldiers’ Stryker vehicles with the latest in Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) equipment. That equipment is the Mounted Assured PNT (Positioning, Navigation and Timing) System (MAPS) Generation 1, (MAPS GEN I), a powerful suite of new hardware and software that will ensure Soldiers have assured position and timing to navigate in a GPS degraded and denied environment. As adversaries across the spectrum field new capabilities to disrupt and degrade GPS, Soldiers will need more fortifications and assurances in those systems.

SOFWERX – Science and Technology Small Business Innovation Research

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

Like all commands, USSOCOM has unique requirements and it needs industry’s help solving them. The SBIR program is an opportunity for small businesses to conduct federally funded research.

See the list of topics and instructions at www.acq.osd.mil/osbp/sbir/solicitations. For additional details, visit www.sofwerx.org/sbir.

The event will be held at SOFWERX in Tampa, 19 – 20 November. Submit by 23 October 2019.

Shape-shifting Robots Built from ‘Smarticles’ Could Navigate Army Operations

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A U.S. Army project took a new approach to developing robots — researchers built robots entirely from smaller robots known as “smarticles,” unlocking the principles of a potentially new locomotion technique.

Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and Northwestern University published their findings in the journal Science Robotics (see related links below).

The research could lead to robotic systems capable of changing their shapes, modalities and functions, said Sam Stanton, program manager, complex dynamics and systems at the Army Research Office, an element of U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, the Army’s corporate research laboratory.

“For example, as envisioned by the Army Functional Concept for Maneuver, a robotic swarm may someday be capable of moving to a river and then autonomously forming a structure to span the gap,” he said.

The 3D-printed smarticles — short for smart active particles — can do just one thing: flap their two arms. But when five of these smarticles are confined in a circle, they begin to nudge one another, forming a robophysical system known as a “supersmarticle” that can move by itself. Adding a light or sound sensor allows the supersmarticle to move in response to the stimulus — and even be controlled well enough to navigate a maze.

The notion of making robots from smaller robots — and taking advantage of the group capabilities that arise by combining individuals — could provide mechanically based control over very small robots. Ultimately, the emergent behavior of the group could provide a new locomotion and control approach for small robots that could potentially change shapes.

“These are very rudimentary robots whose behavior is dominated by mechanics and the laws of physics,” said Dan Goldman, a Dunn Family Professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the project’s principal investigator. “We are not looking to put sophisticated control, sensing and computation on them all. As robots become smaller and smaller, we’ll have to use mechanics and physics principles to control them because they won’t have the level of computation and sensing we would need for conventional control.”

The foundation for the research came from an unlikely source: a study of construction staples. By pouring these heavy-duty staples into a container with removable sides, former doctoral student Nick Gravish — now a faculty member at the University of California San Diego — created structures that would stand by themselves after the container’s walls were removed.

Shaking the staple towers eventually caused them to collapse, but the observations led to a realization that simple entangling of mechanical objects could create structures with capabilities well beyond those of the individual components.

“Dan Goldman’s research is identifying physical principles that may prove essential for engineering emergent behavior in future robot collectives as well as new understanding of fundamental tradeoffs in system performance, responsiveness, uncertainty, resiliency and adaptivity,” Stanton said.

The researchers used a 3D printer to create battery-powered smarticles, which have motors, simple sensors and limited computing power. The devices can change their location only when they interact with other devices while enclosed by a ring.

“Even though no individual robot could move on its own, the cloud composed of multiple robots could move as it pushed itself apart and shrink as it pulled itself together,” Goldman said. “If you put a ring around the cloud of little robots, they start kicking each other around and the larger ring — what we call a supersmarticle — moves around randomly.”

The researchers noticed that if one small robot stopped moving, perhaps because its battery died, the group of smarticles would begin moving in the direction of that stalled robot. The researchers learned to control the movement by adding photo sensors to the robots that halt the arm flapping when a strong beam of light hits one of them.

“If you angle the flashlight just right, you can highlight the robot you want to be inactive, and that causes the ring to lurch toward or away from it, even though no robots are programmed to move toward the light,” Goldman said. “That allowed steering of the ensemble in a very rudimentary, stochastic way.”

In future work, Goldman envisions more complex interactions that use the simple sensing and movement capabilities of the smarticles. “People have been interested in making a certain kind of swarm robots that are composed of other robots,” he said. “These structures could be reconfigured on demand to meet specific needs by tweaking their geometry.”

Swarming formations of robotic systems could be used to enhance situational awareness and mission-command capabilities for small Army units in difficult-to-maneuver environments like cities, forests, caves or other rugged terrain.

The research project also received funding from National Science Foundation.

robotics.sciencemag.org/content/4/34/eaax4316

www.army.mil/futures

www.army.mil/ccdc

www.arl.army.mil

Story by U.S. Army CCDC Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs

Photos by Rob Felt of Georgia Tech

Army Research Looks at Pearls for Clues on Enhancing Lightweight Armor for Soldiers

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Round, smooth and iridescent, pearls are among the world’s most exquisite jewels; now, these gems are inspiring a U.S. Army research project to improve military armor.

By mimicking the outer coating of pearls (nacre, or as it’s more commonly known, mother of pearl), researchers at University at Buffalo, funded by the Army Research Office (ARO), created a lightweight plastic that is 14 times stronger and eight times lighter (less dense) than steel and ideal for absorbing the impact of bullets and other projectiles.


Photo Credit: Shutterstock

ARO is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory.

The research findings are published in the journal ACS Applied Polymer Materials, and its earlier publication in J. Phys. Chem. Lett.

“The material is stiff, strong and tough,” said Dr. Shenqiang Ren, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, a member of University of Buffalo’s RENEW Institute, and the paper’s lead author. “It could be applicable to vests, helmets and other types of body armor, as well as protective armor for ships, helicopters and other vehicles.”


Photo Credit: Courtesy University at Buffalo

The bulk of the material is a souped-up version of polyethylene (the most common plastic) called ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene, or UHMWPE, which is used to make products like artificial hips and guitar picks.

When designing the UHMWPE, the researchers studied mother of pearl, which mollusks create by arranging a form of calcium carbonate into a structure that resembles interlocking bricks. Like mother of pearl, the researchers designed the material to have an extremely tough outer shell with a more flexible inner backing that’s capable of deforming and absorbing projectiles.

“Professor Ren’s work designing UHMWPE to dramatically improve impact strength may lead to new generations of lightweight armor that provide both protection and mobility for Soldiers,” said Dr. Evan Runnerstrom, program manager, materials design, ARO. “In contrast to steel or ceramic armor, UHMWPE could also be easier to cast or mold into complex shapes, providing versatile protection for Soldiers, vehicles, and other Army assets.”

This is what’s known as soft armor, in which soft yet tightly woven materials create what is essentially a very strong net capable of stopping bullets. KEVLAR is a well-known example.

The material the research team developed also has high thermal conductivity. This ability to rapidly dissipate heat further helps it to absorb the energy of bullets and other projectiles.

The team further experimented with the UHMWPE by adding silica nanoparticles, finding that tiny bits of the chemical could enhance the material’s properties and potentially create stronger armor.

“This work demonstrates that the right materials design approaches have the potential to make big impacts for Army technologies,” Runnerstrom said.

By U.S. Army CCDC Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs

US Army Selects True Velocity Composite-Cased Ammunition For Next Generation Squad Weapon

Friday, September 6th, 2019

GARLAND, TX – True Velocity composite-cased ammunition has been selected for the U.S. Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) modernization program. True Velocity’s 6.8mm composite-cased cartridge was submitted as part of an overall NGSW weapon system in partnership with General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems and firearm manufacturer Beretta Defense Technologies.

True Velocity’s proprietary 6.8mm case design will provide end users with significant logistical and operational advantages over traditional brass-cased ammunition, including substantially increased effective range and muzzle energy, drastic reduction in cartridge weight and enhanced accuracy. The combination of True Velocity’s ammunition with the General Dynamics OTS weapon submission results in a state-of-the-art weapon system capable of long-range lethality, short recoil impulse, significant ballistic improvements and enhanced operational effectiveness for the soldier.

“True Velocity’s 6.8mm composite case design produces a level of performance, consistency and efficiency never before seen in small arms ammunition,” said Chris Tedford, president and chief operating officer for True Velocity. “Combining True Velocity’s innovation and technology with the expertise of General Dynamics OTS and Beretta results in a weapon system solution that exceeds NGSW requirements and provides the U.S. Army with a definitive edge on the field of battle.”

 

US Army Selects Three Companies To Vie For Next Generation Squad Weapons to Replace M249 and M4

Friday, August 30th, 2019

Last night, the Army announced the three companies which will proceed to Phase 2 of the Next Generation Squad Weapons Program. This solicitation is a Prototype Project Opportunity Notice (PPON), a Other Transaction Agreement under Section 804 Authority.

The PPON called for each vendor to develop two weapon variants under the NGSW program and 6.8 millimeter ammunition common to both weapons. This is NOT the 6.8 SPC cartridge evaluated by USSOCOM in the early 00s, but rather more akin to 270 WSM.

The three companies selected are:
W15QKN-19-9-1024 – General Dynamics-OTS Inc. – Williston, VT
W15QKN-19-9-1025 – AAI Corporation Textron Systems – Hunt Valley, MD
W15QKN-19-9-1022 – Sig Sauer Inc. – Newington, NH

Although the Army has tried over the years to find a replacement for the M-16 family of weapons, which the M4A1 Carbine is the latest iteration of, none have been successful. Each and every time, the Army has found that the candidate weapons did not result in a great enough improvement in lethality to replace the status quo. This time, the Army called a new effect on target, driving the development of both cartridge and weapon.

Specifically, the Army is seeking a Next Generation Squad Weapon-Rifle (NGSW-R) and Next Generation Squad Weapon-Automatic Rifle (NGSW-AR). The NGSW-R is the planned replacement for the M4/M4A1 Carbine and the NGSW-AR is the planned replacement for the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) in the Automatic Rifleman Role in the Close Combat Force.

According to the solicitation, the duration for each prototype OTA is estimated to be up to eight years. The first 27 months will be for prototyping the NGSW-R, NGSW-AR, and ammunition. Following this prototyping effort, there may be additional iterative prototyping efforts for the NGSW-R, NGSW-AR, and ammunition. These iterative prototyping efforts will each have separate durations and will occur within the eight year duration.
Furthermore, in accordance with 10 U.S.C. 2371b(f), and upon a determination that the prototype project (or any subsequent iterative prototyping efforts) was successfully completed under the competitively awarded OTA(s), a follow-on production contract(s) or OTA(s) may be awarded without the use of competitive procedures.

Because of the duration of the OTA, and that prototype OTA will undergo two prototype test events including Soldier Touch Points, they are asking for a lot more weapons and ammunition than in the current NGSAR PON. Deliverables for each prototype OTA include 53 NGSW-R weapons, 43 NGSW-AR weapons, 845,000 rounds of ammunition, spare parts, test barrels, tools/gauges/accessories, engineering support, and iterative prototyping efforts as defined in the Statement of Work.
The follow-on production award(s) is planned to be an Indefinite Delivery / Indefinite Quantity Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) based contract with Firm Fixed Price Delivery Orders up to ten years or a fixed amount OTA up to ten years. The production award(s) may include 250,000 total weapons system(s) (NGSW-R, NGSW-AR, or both), 150,000,000 rounds of ammunition, spare parts, tools/gauges/accessories, and engineering support. The value of this follow-on production award(s) is estimated to be $10M in the first year and estimated $150M per year at the higher production rates.

GD comes in partnered with True Velocity ammunition and their polymer case design. However, the ammunition for this program features an entirely new case and is called the True Velocity Composite Munition.

Additionally, we hear that GD submitted a bullpup carbine, which several sources have claimed is what the Marine Corps hopes to get from NGSW. Considering the 6.8mm requirement, rumors that they are using the Desert Tech MDR seem like a good bet. Update: it’s not the MDR, but rather a new bullpup design.

AAI Textron is seen by many as the government solution as their weapon and Case Telescoping technology has been funded for years under the Lightweight Small Arms Technology program.

It is the most radical departure of the three from currently fielded weapons. This is a video of their technology demonstrator shown at a recent industry meeting.

During SOFIC, SIG SAUER exhibited their Next Gen solution. They are producing the weapons and ammunition themselves.

Despite the ammo case’s three component construction this looks to be the lowest risk design.

This program is moving along very quickly considering vendors just delivered prototypes to the government at the end of May.

For additional information on the actual requirements, check out this story we posted in January.