Army to have 12 robotic ground vehicles at PC 21

By Ethan Sterenfeld / April 16, 2021 at 1:45 PM

The Army will have 12 robotic ground vehicles at Project Convergence 21, Maj. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team, said April 15.

This is an increase from the “less than five” that were at last year’s demonstration, he said.

The robots will be equipped with a variety of sensors, including low-wattage lidar, visual, nuclear, chemical and thermal sensors, as well as tethered and untethered unmanned aerial vehicles, Coffman said during a talk at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

This will provide the Army an opportunity to observe how soldiers can most effectively interact with robots on the battlefield.

“There’s a lot of effort out there to determine what’s the best way to use robots,” Coffman said. “Should they be additive? Or substitute what humans do on the battlefield?”

Key technological issues for robotics that the Army will examine during the demonstration include autonomous resupply, computer vision and aided target recognition, he said.

Coffman spoke with Inside Defense last month about the Next Generation Independent Fire Control, a program to detect and locate targets for combat vehicles that will be demonstrated at PC 21.

All of the robots will be payload-agnostic, he said. One of the key tasks for their sensors will be constantly mapping the battlefield to give soldiers better information.

As the Army moves forward with robotics, it will be important to determine what needs to be standardized across platforms, Coffman said. He said there have been discussions about making a common physical controller, but that common software might be more important.

“Do you need the same controller for a small UAV that you do for a large robot? We don’t think so,” Coffman said. “But what we do know is that the software must be consistent.”

Common software platforms could make it easier to integrate new robots into the Army, and it would be more cost-effective than having to make entirely new code for each robot, he said.

The Army’s future robots will not necessarily need to reach the same extremely high standards that manned combat vehicles are currently held to, Coffman said. He added it will be most important that they work well enough to get the job done.

“We need the minimum viable product,” Coffman said. “It doesn’t need to be gold-plated.”