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Archive for the ‘Robotics’ Category

Leading Canadian Submersible Robotics Company Launching New Semi-Autonomous ROV System, REVOLUTION NAV

Wednesday, September 16th, 2020


The REVOLUTION NAV package makes locating, tracking and operating an ROV easier than ever before.

August 18, 2020 – Kitchener, Ontario – Taking a big step towards developing a hybrid autonomous vehicle, submersible robotics company Deep Trekker is proud to announce that they are launching a new ROV package, the REVOLUTION NAV. Offering advanced navigation and stabilization, this new package is leading the way in semi-autonomous vehicles. The REVOLUTION NAV package provides pilots with a Google map showing their ROV’s position on screen, allowing users to see where they are, leave a trail to show where they have been and set points of interest to where they want to return to. Furthermore, advanced stabilization features allow operators to station hold against currents, enable auto altitude and pilot their vehicle precisely and accurately through varying water conditions.

Solving harsh environmental situations with fully assembled, tested and ready to use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), Deep Trekker gets eyes underwater in minutes. With applications in aquaculture, energy, shipping, defense, infrastructure and search and rescue among others, Deep Trekker’s underwater drones are on the leading edge of submersible technology.

“We are thrilled to be launching the REVOLUTION NAV,” shared Deep Trekker President Sam Macdonald. “With this new package, users will be able to know where they are in real time. This advanced navigational tool allows for more complex missions to be successfully carried out by ROV pilots.”

The REVOLUTION NAV’s capabilities are especially useful for applications in open, murky water or when there is significant current. The state-of-the-art features provide benefits across numerous applications for missions requiring precise navigation, location tracking and reporting. Search and recovery teams, for example, will be able to easily see and track what areas have been covered as part of the search. 

“The REVOLUTION NAV uses our BRIDGE technology and sensor fusion to provide station keeping, location tracking and intelligent navigation in addition to real time location data,” explained Macdonald. “We aim for constant innovation and the REVOLUTION NAV allows us to continue to provide advancements to our customers and pave the way towards autonomy.”

The pairing of USBL and DVL with Deep Trekker’s BRIDGE technology and sensor fusion bring this intelligent navigation system to life. USBL systems utilize sonar beacons to triangulate the position of the ROV. A GPS chip inside the Deep Trekker BRIDGE Controller allows the system to correlate the data and provide real time latitude and longitude. DVL offers users an enhanced navigational system by providing pilots with the ability to accurately and conveniently determine velocity relative to the seafloor, allowing for easy navigation through the most complex of operations. 

www.deeptrekker.com

Persistent Systems Completes Phase I of Robotic Command Vehicles program; Readies for Phase III

Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

Company officials say mobile ad hoc network will shine in complex, multi-unit battlefield scenarios 

For Immediate Release 

NEW YORK, N.Y. – August 18, 2020 – Persistent Systems, LLC (“Persistent”), a leader in mobile ad hoc network (MANET) solutions, announced today that it has successfully completed Phase I of the U.S. Army Robotic Command Vehicles (RCV) program.  

Run under the auspices of the Army Future Command’s Next Generation Combat Vehicles – Cross Functional Team, the RCV program aims to show the utility of manned-unmanned teaming with a future Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) being able to control multiple RCV “wingmen.”   

During Phase I, a modified M113 tracked armored personnel carrier acted as an RCV surrogate while a modified Bradley infantry vehicle called the Mission Enabling Technologies-Demonstrator, or MET-D, served in lieu of a yet-to-be-built OMFV. 

 “We successfully networked the surrogate platforms in a point-to-point fashion with our Wave Relay MANET,” Brian Soles, VP of Government Relations & Business Strategy for Persistent Systems, said. “That means enabling the cameras, sensors and software as well as the command-and-control interface for control of the RCV and its gun systems.” 

Persistent Systems is now working with the Next Generation Combat Vehicles – Cross Functional Team and other stakeholders, such as Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center and C5ISR Center, to review lessons learned and further adapt Wave Relay capabilities. 

“We are really looking forward to Phase III of the Army RCV program,” Soles said, “because it’ll be a complex, RF-contested and -congested environment with multiple air, ground, and dismounted units, and that’s where Wave Relay’s scalability, resiliency and spectrum efficiency will shine.”    

Robotic Combat Vehicles Display Next-Gen Features in Live-Fire Exercises

Friday, August 14th, 2020

FORT CARSON, Colo. — The Army’s collection of armed robotic combat vehicles showcased an “exceptional” ability to identify enemy positions after about a month of testing, but more development is still needed to improve battlefield precision, said Brig. Gen. Richard Coffman.

Coffman, director of the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team, praised the capabilities of the four robotic combat vehicles, or RCVs, during the platoon live-fire exercises here.

Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division used two modified Bradley Fighting Vehicles, called Mission Enabling Technologies-Demonstrators, or MET-Ds, to control and maneuver the RCVs to determine whether the autonomous vehicles increased the lethality and efficiency of ground units.

“The ability [to spot enemies] was exceptional, because that reduces the risk on our Soldiers and allows us to remain in a covered and concealed position and make decisions,” Coffman said during a media conference call Thursday.

The MET-Ds, which are manned with six Soldiers, have 360-degree situational awareness cameras, a remote turret with a 25 mm main gun, and enhanced crew stations with touchscreens. The RCVs are M113 surrogate platforms that also have 360 cameras and fire 7.62 mm machine guns.

From inside the MET-Ds, Soldiers were able to control the RCVs up to a 2,000-meter range, but struggled to extend that distance in dense forest regions, Coffman said.

Developers plan to add more features to the vehicles in Phase II of testing, including a new radio tether to increase the operating range, an unmanned aerial vehicle and a target recognition capability based on synthetic data. Phase II, which is scheduled for the first quarter of fiscal year 2022 at Fort Hood, Texas, will feature three platoons of robotic vehicle with control vehicles.

“This is about commanders on the battlefield and giving them more decision space and reducing the risk on our men and women,” Coffman said. “We go into the nastiest places on earth. And these robots are absolutely going to do that in the future. We’re not there 100% yet.”

A third party will evaluate the technical and tactical performance of the operating crews and robotic vehicles, as well as the overall success of the experiment. The findings will then be briefed to the service’s senior leaders.

After the evaluation of Phase II’s results, Coffman said the Army will decide whether to continue testing.

Room for improvement

Soldiers testing the autonomous vehicles noted that greater sensory capabilities must be developed for the controlled vehicles to serve as unmanned replacements.

“Right now we don’t have sensors that can tell whether we’re coming across a little puddle that we can just drive through or whether that puddle is 8 feet deep and going to bog us down,” said Jeffrey Langhout, director of the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle System Center. “A robot can navigate its own way and it relies on the sensors that it has to keep from driving into ditches and all kinds of problems. We certainly have a long way to go on that.”

Sgt. Matthew Morris, assigned to 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th ID, said the lack of downward visibility hindered operation of the RCVs. He said the vehicle’s ability to see down steep terrain must improve to prevent the vehicle from overturning.

When a human drives a vehicle into soft sand they instinctively know to shift to a lower driving gear and the RCVs must develop that sensitivity, Coffman said.

“For me specifically, I think that the ability to see downward once we approach certain inclines and declines would probably be an astute upgrade that would push us forward in the right direction,” Morris said, adding the vehicles must increase its audio signature to increase communication abilities with crew members.

Vehicle operator Sgt. Scott Conklin, who is also with 3rd ABCT, said that the two-person crew could handle the increased workload, but the frenetic pace of operating with the 360 cameras made the RCVs challenging to operate.

Coffman said regardless of how the program evolves, he said humans will retain a level of autonomy over the robotic combat vehicles.

“We don’t want a fully autonomous vehicle,” he said. “We don’t want the machine deciding. We want very specific rules of what that machine will and will not do. The humans are in charge.”

By Joseph Lacdan, Army News Service

US Army Selects Kongsberg to Develop Wireless Lethality for its Light and Medium Robotic Combat Vehicles

Monday, July 6th, 2020

Contract continues program maturity, supports future lethality requirements and provides commonality with the U.S. Marine Corps

JOHNSTOWN, PA, July 1, 2020 – The U.S. Army has selected Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace to provide a wireless fire control capability to support its future medium caliber lethality needs for its light and medium Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCV). This decision creates a common architecture across all current robotic lethality fire control for crew-served, medium caliber and anti-tank weapons. In addition to the fire control architectures for both RCV-Light (RCV-L) and RCV-Medium (RCV-M), Kongsberg weapon stations – CROWS J and MCT-30 respectively – have been selected as Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) for the Army’s RCV phase 2 experimentation.

“By overcoming the challenges presented by remote lethality, Kongsberg is paving the way for commonality across a variety of vehicle platforms – manned, optionally manned or unmanned,” said Scott Burk, vice president, Land Systems, Kongsberg Defense. “Beyond lethality and scalability, in conjunction with other Kongsberg medium caliber systems and medium weight systems being delivered, soldiers have the advantage of service-wide commonality. This will have tremendous positive impacts on training, provisioning and sustaining all U.S. Army weapon stations.”

This latest contract for wireless fire-control architecture augments previous awards to Kongsberg for the wireless fire-control architecture for the U.S. Army RCV-L program and the Multi-User, Multi-Station (MUMS) distributed fire-control architecture. The MUMS architecture was developed against a U.S. Marine Corps requirement for “one over many, many over one” control of RWS. The MUMS architecture is currently being applied to all Marine RWS deliveries including systems for the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV).

Kongsberg demonstrated its wireless fire control capability for the RCV-L architecture, firing both a Javelin anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) as well as the weapon station’s 12.7 mm machine gun (.50 M2) from a legacy CROWS M153 mounted on an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV). The June 2019 live-fire demonstration was carried out at Redstone Test Center in Alabama. Kongsberg also successfully demonstrated secure transmissions of video and fire-control data including command signals over radio from the weapon station and the missile. Kongsberg will perform a similar U.S. government-sponsored demonstration of the medium caliber wireless capability later this year.

The Kongsberg MCT-30 is the first remotely-operated turret to be qualified and fielded in the United States. The system provides highly accurate firepower for wheeled or tracked combat vehicles and is remotely controlled and operated from a protected position inside the vehicle compartment for optimized crew safety.

Kongsberg is the world’s leading manufacturer of Remote Weapon Stations (RWS), having delivered nearly 20,000 RWS units to more than 20 countries worldwide. Kongsberg is also the sole provider of RWS and remote turrets to the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps. All RWS and remote turrets bound for U.S. customers are manufactured in the Kongsberg Johnstown, PA facility. The company takes great pride in its continued support to, and for the United States, U.S. employees, and U.S. supply base.   

For more information, visit kongsberg.com

Milrem Robotics Revealed Type-X RCV with John Cockerill CPWS II Turret

Thursday, June 18th, 2020

Tallinn, June 17, 2020 – Milrem Robotics and John Cockerill Defense today showcased the Type-X Robotic Combat Vehicle with the Cockerill Protected Weapons Station Gen. II (CPWS II) to select military forces from around the world.

The Type-X vehicle chassis is a revolutionary design for a mobile modular multi-mission vehicle that provides a platform for a family of unmanned armored vehicles. It is the first combat vehicle that is purposefully designed to be unmanned intended to be an integral part of mechanized units.

The Type-X is designed to deploy at a weight below the 12-ton mark for rapid deployment into the combat theater, either by parachute or by heavy lift helicopter.

A combination of augmented Artificial Intelligence (AI) and a remote system operator, the Type-X is a tracked vehicle with armor protection that can supplement troop formations or operate independently, in unmanned formations.

“The Type-X is modular and will accept larger turrets, but current turret designs are optimized for operations under armor,” Kuldar Väärsi, CEO of Milrem Robotics stated. “The CPWS II is a step in the right direction, as it is designed from the beginning to be a remotely controlled configuration (unmanned) and easy access from the outside of the turret, allowing for reload and maintenance,” Väärsi added.

Simon Haye, the Chief Marketing Officer for John Cockerill Defense adds: “One of the first realistic roles for unmanned fighting vehicles will be convoy defense and perimeter or base defense. The Type-X with the CPWS can be placed in the front and rear of a convoy to provide additional eyes and firepower for the convoy. Rarely does a convoy have available 25mm firepower and given the system is unmanned, tactics like rushing an ambush site, or maneuvering on the enemy’s position are now legitimate options for a convoy under fire. The lead / follow functions of unmanned vehicles is well developed technology and spreading some operator stations through the convoy can provide redundancy and quick response. Further FOB security can now be in the form of a mobile unmanned fighting vehicle. Instead of putting soldiers at risk on the wire, these Guardian Systems can provide relentless observation and the capability to maneuver and disperse an attack instead of just absorbing it.”

The CPWS II is a low profile, light weight turret, with a revolutionary hatch opening and can mount the M242 25mm X 137mm Bushmaster cannon or the 230LF, 30mm X 113mm cannon. The CPWS II is a remotely operated turret, designed to fit onto 4X4 and 6X6 vehicles. It is the revolutionary hatch, which can operate in three modes that makes the turret a desirable selection for unmanned vehicle operations.

The opening roof capability will allow a rapid reloading of the unmanned vehicle from the outside. Equipped with a 360-degree panoramic sight, with CCD, thermal and fused imaging, the CPWS represents a suitable partner to the Type-X Robotic Combat Vehicle. The turret can come with Anti-Tank Missiles such as Alcotan, MMP, Javelin or SPIKE.

“Eventually, combining self-driving unmanned logistics vehicles with the Type-X and you can reduce the personnel required for a convoy to a few operators, while actually increasing the capabilities of defending the convoy,” Kuldar Väärsi, CEO of Milrem Robotics said. “This is not just a leap forward in force protection but a force multiplier.”

During the demonstration Milrem Robotics unveiled their Intelligent Functions Kit (IFK), which converts any vehicle into a self-driving or remotely controlled one. Milrem Robotics’ IFK is a modular hardware and software kit providing ROS2 based environment for different functionalities, which can be provided by Milrem Robotics, the customer or a third party. The IFK has been developed for Milrem Robotics’ THeMIS UGV and Type-X but can be adapted to any other vehicle with drive-by-wire integration.

Both companies are excited about the future cooperation. “We are looking forward to developing a wide range of solutions with John Cockerill, as they have experience, not only in the medium caliber range but they are known for their expertise in the 90mm and 105mm cannons.” Väärsi stated.

Small Robotic Mule, Other Unmanned Ground Systems on the Horizon for US Army

Saturday, June 13th, 2020

FORT MEADE, Md. — The Army plans to award a contract this month to produce hundreds of robotic mules that will help light infantry units carry gear, a product manager said last week, as part of a line of unmanned ground systems the service is developing.

The Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport, or S-MET, was tested last year by two infantry brigades from the 10th Mountain Division and 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

The six-month assessment included 80 systems from four vendors that were evaluated during home-station training and rotations to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Soldiers successfully tested the performance of the robotic vehicles to ensure they could at least carry 1,000 pounds, operate over 60 miles in a three-day period, and generate a kilowatt when moving and 3 kilowatts when stationary to allow equipment and batteries to charge.

“We were able to demonstrate that and got lots of Soldier feedback,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Bodenhamer, product manager of Appliqué and Large Unmanned Ground Systems, which falls under the Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support.

The S-MET will begin to be fielded in the second quarter of the next fiscal year, with a total of 624 vehicles in Soldiers’ hands by the middle of fiscal 2024, according to the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center.

Soldier feedback led to increasing the S-MET’s carrying capacity and mobility, creating alternative methods for casualty evacuation and robotic obscuration, as well as reducing its noise, said Col. Christopher Barnwell, director of the Joint Modernization Command’s Field Experimentation Division.

“Soldiers think outside the box,” Barnwell said of the importance of their input during last week’s Future Ground Combat Vehicles virtual conference.

The S-MET program is also leveraging modular mission payload capabilities, or MMPs, to expand its functions using a common chassis, Bodenhamer said.

“This is important because this shows one of the linkages between robotics efforts,” he said, adding his office often discusses plans across the Army’s robotics community to prevent replication. “Modular mission payloads is a great example of that synergy.”

In April 2019, the Army held a weeklong demonstration with the add-on payloads at Fort Benning, Georgia, to explore ways to enhance the effectiveness of the S-MET.

“Obviously there’s a lot of potential here for the Robotic Combat Vehicles to use some of this, too,” he said, referring to the light and medium RCV variants. “They’re looking closely at the efforts we’re undertaking with these MMPs.”

Requests for information have already been sent out to industry for two MMP capabilities: counter-unmanned aerial system and another for enhanced autonomy.

“We are going to try to quickly get these things out to Soldiers and let them see which ones do and don’t meet their needs,” he said, “and then hopefully procure a quantity of these payloads to further enhance the capability of the S-MET.”

Manned-unmanned teaming

The Army also completed an assessment in March on the Nuclear Biological Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle, or NBCRV, a modified Stryker vehicle with chemical detection sensors.

The assessment, conducted by the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, added new unmanned, surrogate systems to enhance NBC reconnaissance and surveillance. Each NBCRV controlled an unmanned ground vehicle as a wingman and three UAS aircraft, Barnwell said.

Manned-unmanned teaming operations “extended the range, the area of coverage and reduced the risk to the crew and enabled faster reporting of [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] hazards,” he said.

The requirement for the Assault Breacher Vehicle Teleoperation Kit, which is built on an M1A1 Abrams tank chassis, is also set to be finalized this summer after being tested in last year’s Joint Warfighting Assessment.

The kit allows the two-person crew to step out of the vehicle and remotely control it during dangerous breaching operations.

While the gun tube of the tank is removed, it can still launch mine clearing line charges and includes a lane marking system and front-end plowing attachments.

 “It’s a great use of teleop,” Bodenhamer said. “Probably the best use we’ve ever come up with, in terms of how it fits into the overall impact of bringing the unmanned operation of a platform into the Army.”

As technology improves, artificial intelligence will continually play a larger role in operations, Barnwell said.

“These systems are going to have to be able to do more and more on their own to enable the human operators to focus on the big picture,” he said.

A tank commander, for instance, may need to order a few robotic “wingman” vehicles to drive themselves to a waypoint, avoiding obstacles along the way.

Or, a helicopter pilot may require a UAS to detect and destroy air defense systems ahead of him before arriving to a specific location, he said.

“We’re not talking Skynet,” he said, referring to The Terminator film. “We’re talking about simple things that these systems are going to have to do to enable us as warfighters to operate more efficiently.”

By Sean Kimmons, Army News Service

US Army Adopts New Path Forward for Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle

Friday, June 5th, 2020

OMFV adopts new path forward from lessons learned

FORT MEADE, Md. — The Army’s G-8 discussed a new strategy for the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, following lessons learned after its first request for prototypes was canceled earlier this year.

The OMFV, which will replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, remains on track to be fielded to both active and National Guard armored brigade combat teams starting in fiscal year 2028.

About $4.6 billion is currently invested in the program from fiscal 2020-2026, said Lt. Gen. James Pasquarette during a presentation for the Future Ground Combat Vehicles virtual conference Thursday.

“The initial solicitation required a very aggressive set of initial capabilities on an equally aggressive timeline beyond what our partners in both government and industry could provide,” he said. “To be clear, the Army is absolutely committed to the OMFV program.”

Despite the adjustment costing the Army about $23 million in unrecoverable funds, he said it was still important to reset the program’s azimuth in the right direction.

“Rarely than fail late after spending billions of dollars, like we’ve done in the past many times, the Army learned early and inexpensively,” he said.

After pulling the solicitation, the Army garnered feedback from government and industry partners to chart the next move.

Army Futures Command then adjusted the traditional requirements approach by defining a set of nine characteristics to better focus efforts, he said.

The characteristics — survivability, mobility, growth, lethality, weight, logistics, transportability, manning, and training — will further be refined through a cooperative and iterative process with industry, digital design competitions and Soldier touchpoints to produce the final prototypes for testing, AFC officials said in February.

“The Army believes that this adjusted requirement strategy preserves flexibility much longer into the acquisition process before necessitating significant hardware investments,” Pasquarette said.

The general said the new strategy will spark innovation and competition through a collaborative process that offers several opportunities for Soldiers to provide input.

“Throughout this process, Soldiers will assist the Army and industry partners in refining the vehicle’s characteristics in design and forming the most feasible and acceptable set of technical requirements for final production,” he said.

While there will be challenges due to the complexity of such a program, he said he believes some industry partners will thrive in the non-traditional acquisition setting.

“This strategy is an approach the Army must take to harness the power of innovation of worldwide industry partners, drive new ideas through competition and produce a new infantry combat vehicle that Soldiers must have to fight and win against a near-peer threat in the future,” he said.

In the meantime, the Army has also invested $915 million from fiscal 2020-2026 to develop and field the latest A4 versions of Bradley vehicles to armored units starting in the second quarter of the next fiscal year, he said.

The A4 version will have upgrades to the suspension and track, powertrain, electrical system, mission command features, plus other enhancements and accelerated technologies, he added.

“The U.S. Army is committed to providing our Soldiers the best ground combat systems in the world,” he said. “And under Army Futures Command’s direction and oversight, I’m confident that the armored brigade combat team will remain the dominate ground combat formation for decades to come.”

By Sean Kimmons, Army News Service

Clever New Robot Rover Design Conquers Sand Traps

Monday, May 18th, 2020

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Built with wheeled appendages that can be lifted, a new robot developed with U.S. Army funding has complex locomotion techniques robust enough to allow it to climb sand covered hills and avoid getting stuck. The robot has NASA interested for potential surveying of a planet or the Moon.

Using a move that researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology dubbed rear rotator pedaling, the robot, known as the Mini Rover, climbs a slope by using a design that combines paddling, walking, and wheel spinning motions. The rover’s behaviors were modeled using a branch of physics known as terradynamics.

The journal Science Robotics published the research as a cover article. The Army Research Office, an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory and NASA, through the National Robotics Initiative, funded the research.

“This basic research is revealing exciting new approaches for locomotion in complex terrain,” said Dr. Samuel Stanton, a program manager at ARO. “This could lead to platforms capable of intelligently transitioning between wheeled and legged modes of movement to maintain high operational tempo.”

According to the scientists, when loose materials like sand flow, that can create problems for robots moving across it.

“This rover has enough degrees of freedom that it can get out of jams pretty effectively,” said Dan Goldman, the Dunn Family Professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “By avalanching materials from the front wheels, it creates a localized fluid hill for the back wheels that is not as steep as the real slope. The rover is always self-generating and self-organizing a good hill for itself.”

A robot built by NASA’s Johnson Space Center pioneered the ability to spin its wheels, sweep the surface with those wheels and lift each of its wheeled appendages where necessary, creating a broad range of potential motions. Using in-house 3-D printers, the Georgia Tech researchers collaborated with the Johnson Space Center to re-create those capabilities in a scaled-down vehicle with four wheeled appendages driven by 12 different motors.

“The rover was developed with a modular mechatronic architecture, commercially available components, and a minimal number of parts,” said Siddharth Shrivastava, an undergraduate student in Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. “This enabled our team to use our robot as a robust laboratory tool and focus our efforts on exploring creative and interesting experiments without worrying about damaging the rover, service downtime, or hitting performance limitations.”

The rover’s broad range of movements gave the research team an opportunity to test many variations that were studied using granular drag force measurements and modified Resistive Force Theory. The team began with the gaits explored by the NASA RP15 robot, and experimented with locomotion schemes that could not have been tested on a full-size rover.

The researchers also tested their experimental gaits on slopes designed to simulate planetary and lunar hills using a fluidized bed system known as SCATTER, or Systematic Creation of Arbitrary Terrain and Testing of Exploratory Robots, that could be tilted to evaluate the role of controlling the granular substrate.

In the experiments, the new gait allowed the rover to climb a steep slope with the front wheels stirring up the granular material – poppy seeds for the lab testing – and pushing them back toward the rear wheels. The rear wheels wiggled from side-to-side, lifting and spinning to create a motion that resembles paddling in water. The material pushed to the back wheels effectively changed the slope the rear wheels had to climb, allowing the rover to make steady progress up a hill that might have stopped a simple wheeled robot.

“In our previous studies of pure legged robots, modeled on animals, we had kind of figured out that the secret was to not make a mess,” Goldman said. “If you end up making too much of a mess with most robots, you end up just paddling and digging into the granular material. If you want fast locomotion, we found that you should try to keep the material as solid as possible by tweaking the parameters of motion.”

But simple motions had proved problematic for Mars rovers, which famously got stuck in granular materials. Goldman says this gait discovery might be able to help future rovers avoid that fate.

“This combination of lifting and wheeling and paddling, if used properly, provides the ability to maintain some forward progress even if it is slow,” Goldman said. “Through our laboratory experiments, we have shown principles that could lead to improved robustness in planetary exploration – and even in challenging surfaces on our own planet.”

The researchers hope next to scale up the unusual gaits to larger robots, and to explore the idea of studying robots and their localized environments together.

Though the Mini Rover was designed to study lunar and planetary exploration, the lessons learned could also be applicable to terrestrial locomotion – an area of interest to the Army.

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