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Its a bird, its a plane, its a UAV February 17, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in industry robot spotlight.
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In a face-off between UAV vs. UGV vs. UMV, i.e. aerial vs. ground vs. maritime robot, who would win? If we go by shear volume of what’s currently deployed in action, unmanned aerial vehicles take the cake. I recently calculated that DoD spending on research and development for UAVs is 2.5-times its investment in UGV-related R&D, and 15-times its investment in UMVs. (source: FY2009-2034 Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap: President’s Budget for Unmanned Systems).

With more eyes in the skies, UAV developers have seen some recent success. For instance, the US Marine Corps recently completed its first successful demonstration of its new robocopter, a helicopter that was gutted and retrofitted to become a UAV. What’s particularly impressive is that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill unmanned vehicle; there’s no hands on control necessary. A flight operator specifies the flight path and then the helicopter autonomously navigates itself to its destination. And the fact that its a helicopter helps address difficulties encountered when delivering supplies or aid to soldiers in particularly rugged terrain. This Popular Science article has more info on the application.

Another recent success: a UAV in the UK has made the first flying drone arrest. Suspects of a stolen vehicle had been evading police during chase thanks to a thick heavy fog. So police called in the help of a UAV and utilized its thermal imaging to identify the body heat and locate the hiding suspects in a nearby ditch. More info here.

Kind of creepy but still very cool.

ARCH: A humvee that drives itself September 4, 2009

Posted by emiliekopp in industry robot spotlight.
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Speaking of autonomous vehicles, here’s an autonomous humvee from TORC Technologies, a company founded by a couple of Virginia Tech graduates several years ago. Needless to say, VT is a hot bed of UGV experts.

The idea is that you have a an unmanned humvee at the lead of a convoy. That way, if any IEDs and/or land mines are encountered on the convoy’s path, the unmanned vehicle is targeted first. The leading humvee can be teleoperated (remotely controlled) by an operator in the chase vehicle, or it can operate semi-autonmously or autonomously on its own.

TORC has become an industry expert in unmanned and autonomous vehicle systems. They helped create VictorTango, the vehicle that won 3rd prize in the DARPA Urban Challenge. NI has had the pleasure of working with them quite a bit. They’ve done a lot of their development using LabVIEW and CompactRIO.

Something I thought was cool is that TORC can turn any commericial automobile into an autonomous/teleoperated vehicle in a matter of hours. They do this by interfacing to the vehicle control unit through Controller Area Network (CAN) bus, and then communicate to it using JAUS commands. JAUS is like a universal language in military robotics. You can control one robot with specific JAUS commands and then control a different robot with the same commands, assuming they have the same computing nodes.

As if this blog post doesn’t already have enough acronyms, here’s the name of the autonomous humvee that TORC delivered to the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC):

ARCH: Autonomous Remote Control HMMWVs or Autonomous Remote Control for High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (an acronym that contains yet another long acronym; engineers love this stuff)