Findings and Recommendations
This chapter summarizes recommendations for the Army UGV Technology program emphasizing, in particular, where the Army should focus its attention to make unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) a reality for the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program and the Objective Force.
TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT PRIORITIES
The statement of task for the study challenged the committee to identify technology areas that merit further investigation by the Army. Tables 4-6 and 5-5 summarize the capability gaps that remain to be filled to implement the four application-oriented example systems postulated for the analysis. In general, items in the dark-shaded cells in the tables represent the most difficult challenges and should be accorded high priority for resolution if the Army desires to achieve the particular, or similar, systems postulated in the report. The committee assumed that the Army would fill all of the gaps identified to develop the example systems it postulated. Within this context, the following technologies stand out for their significance as potential “showstoppers” for developing UGV systems for the FCS.
Technology Areas Meriting Further Investigation
Clearly the highest priority for the Army should continue to be the development of perception technologies for autonomous mobility. Basic shortcomings in this area have been highlighted in numerous past studies and provide impetus for the current Army Research Laboratory (ARL) science and technology objective (STO).
On-road and off-road A-to-B mobility is fundamental to the acceptability of three of the four systems postulated by the study. On-road capability is immature and has not been emphasized. Although a start was made with small platforms in the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) Tactical Mobile Robot (TMR) program, little or no attention has been paid to A-to-B mobility in urban settings. Essentially no capability exists for mobility on unstructured roads. Off-road perception capability for mobility is extremely limited and has not been evaluated in unknown terrain, at night, in bad weather, or in the presence of obscurants. There is no evidence that the current level of perception capability can support an autonomous cross-country traverse of tactical significance, at tactical speeds, under combat conditions. Detection of obstacles, especially negative obstacles, cannot be done reliably, and there is essentially no capability to detect tactical features or to conduct situation assessments, yet the use of perception technology to extend situational awareness is essential to both the Wingman and Hunter-Killer example systems.
Perception technologies, including the sensors, algorithms (particularly for data fusion and for active vision in multiple modalities), and processing capabilities, must be perfected or UGV systems will prove a liability on the battlefield. The Army, Joint Program Office (JPO), and DARPA have made some progress, but much more must be done.
Improvements in individual sensor capabilities and algorithms are needed, but a big problem, largely unacknowledged, is optimizing the perception system hardware and software architecture: sensors, embedded processors, coded algorithms, and communications buses. There is currently no way to know how perception performance is reduced by suboptimized architecture or where improvements might be made. This is a very complicated systems engineering problem that is exacerbated by having work carried out by separate organizations in separate programs.
While perception technologies for A-to-B mobility and situation awareness are clearly the top priority, the committee found that other priorities for attention are dependent on capability class.
Teleoperated Ground Vehicles
For teleoperated ground vehicles, human–robot interaction, health maintenance, communications, and power/energy technologies assume major prominence. Current robots rely on teleoperation using microcomputer user interfaces, such as keyboards, mice, joysticks, and touch screens. Most are demanding to operate and have not been validated by human-factors personnel. Techniques to augment external navigation controls with algorithms for real-time mapping and localization would reduce the stress on operators. Such algorithms, which have been developed for indoor urban missions and have not transferred well to irregular outdoor environments, would help to reduce the number of operators required per robot.
Current unmanned systems, both ground and air, require many more technicians for repair and preventive maintenance than are required by manned systems. Future teleoperated ground vehicles (TGVs) (and UGVs in all classes) must be able to self-monitor and to provide information to remote locations for diagnosis and possible recovery. Such vehicles should be designed with behaviors and characteristics that facilitate their own survivability. These issues are not currently being addressed and constitute a major gap that must be filled to produce vehicles that will work in the field, be accepted by the user, and eventually reduce the logistics footprint compared to manned systems.
Semiautonomous Preceder/Follower Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SAP/F-UGV)
For the SAP/F-UGV class of vehicles, mobility, navigation, tactical behaviors, and health-maintenance technologies are all high priorities. Successful integration of navigation technologies with an all-terrain mobility platform could enable preceder/follower UGVs to serve not only as logistics carriers but also as lead elements for small-unit patrols or soldier-portable robot vehicles on security outposts. These UGVs must be operationally reliable to a degree greater than manned vehicles.
Depending on application, basic tactical behaviors will be required to ensure that SAP/F-UGVs can perform missions without becoming a burden on the battlefield. Developers must have clear operational guidance before these behaviors, many peculiar to Army field operations, can be programmed and tested.
Platform-Centric Autonomous Ground Vehicles (PC-AGV)
Priority technologies include those for the SAP/F-UGV class (mobility, navigation, tactical behaviors, and health maintenance) as described above plus learning/adaptation technologies. Tactical behaviors are central to the utility of PC-AGVs, and developers must have operational guidance to focus and direct implementation software. To be useful for extended durations as part of the FCS, PC-AGVs must be capable of adapting embedded tactical behaviors to changing situations without requiring reprogramming in the field. Ideally, lessons learned would be cumulative and could be transferred to other AGV systems.
Network-Centric Autonomous Ground Vehicles (NC-AGV)
Communications, including mobile self-configuring networks and distributed knowledge bases, become all-important for this class of UGV. To respond to multiple demands NC-AGVs must be tightly networked with other FCS elements and information systems on the battlefield. Other priority technologies include mobility (to provide versatile, multifunction platforms), human–robot interaction (to ensure proper task allocation between soldier–robot and robot–robot), and learning/adaptation (to expand the range of autonomous behaviors).
Recommendation 1. The Army should give top priority to the development of perception technologies to achieve autonomous mobility. In addition, it should focus on specific technologies depending on UGV capability class.
Recommendation 1 provides the basis for the answer to Task Statement Question 3.a in Box 8-1.
FOCUS ON COMPELLING ARMY APPLICATIONS
The compelling reason for incorporating UGVs in FCS and the Objective Force is that they can save soldiers’ lives by taking on some of the most life-threatening missions soldiers now perform. The committee found no compelling arguments that UGVs will reduce force structure requirements for combat operations in the time frames envisioned for FCS or the Objective Force. Neither will they reduce force structure in the theater of operations. On the contrary, without progress in key UGV technology areas, such as perception and tactical skills, the ratio of personnel required for operating and maintaining each vehicle is likely to approach the 4:1 and higher ratios needed to support small UAV systems. Only in the far term (2025 and beyond) are UGVs likely to operate in field conditions at ratios approaching 1:1 with the soldiers handling them.
The capabilities of UGVs should complement what humans can do better, with the aim of maximizing the additional benefits that can be gained by introducing UGVs. Each UGV class should be specified and designed to do what robots can do better (or at lower risk) than humans, rather than trying to imitate what humans already do very well.
The potential user (warfighter) community, represented by Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), remains skeptical about the promise of benefits from UGVs. There is
BOX 8-1 Task Statement Question 3.a
Question: What technologies should next be pursued, and in what priority, to achieve a UGV capability exceeding that envisioned in the ARL STO?
Answer: The major technology thrust beyond the ARL STO should be in the area of perception technologies to support increasing levels of autonomous mobility and situation awareness. A particular focus is needed on the fusion of a balanced suite of active and passive onboard sensory, contextual, and external data. Other priorities depend upon the capability class of the UGV system to be developed. For the semiautonomous preceder/follower UGV envisioned by the ARL STO, these include technologies for the mobility platform, integrated navigation, human–robot interaction, tactical behaviors, and vehicle health maintenance.
good reason for this skepticism when the benefits are stated in terms of replacing soldiers in the force structure, rather than aiding soldiers in performing their missions. Another basis for skepticism is the survivability of UGVs on the battlefield. In the committee’s judgment, only if basic utility and robustness can be demonstrated with experimental, application-driven vehicles will the user community begin to accept UGV missions requiring higher levels of autonomy.
Until requirements are validated in the Army user community there can be no commitment to UGV systems and applications. The existing statements of requirements are insufficient to guide and stimulate technological evolution. This void has forced UGV development into a technology push mode, rather than a balance between technology push and requirements pull modes.
For UGV systems to be included with FCS and the Objective Force, a process of spiral development involving the user will be necessary, including successive iterations of application and capability refinements. Technologies that merit special development attention can then be identified and developed using a “skunk-works” approach that achieves the focus and centralized leadership necessary to reach goals set by the user community. Prototypes resulting from targeted technology development and integration can be used for higher-level developments or for experiments involving particular mission-package applications by the user. Such technology-integrating experiments will help users determine which concepts have the most value.
The committee believes that the Army UGV program is best served by developing a small number of experimental vehicle types capable of applications with compelling value for FCS and the Objective Force. The objective would be to develop and integrate the technologies required for several classes of vehicle capability. In this sense the program would be capabilities driven, rather than requirements driven. A requirements development process could evolve later, when the user community is comfortable with making system commitments based on demonstrated UGV capabilities.
A “skunk-works” approach to develop autonomous A-to-B mobility would consolidate and focus the development of technologies essential to FCS UGVs under a single manager, eliminate duplication of effort, and provide the basis for standardized research platforms to be used in the spiral development of UGV systems. The process would also be best served by systematic testing and refinement under severe operating conditions.
The committee believes that Army mission needs and operational requirements for UGV systems can evolve in a spiral development process as a technology integration program advances, provided the program is focused on maturing the underlying technologies and achieving system integration of those technologies at several useful levels of vehicle capability. As documented in Chapter 2, the committee found that current operational requirements or mission-needs statements are inadequate to focus a capabilities-driven development program for experimental prototypes. In that chapter the committee defines four UGV capability classes and describes example military applications for each. Although the examples are essential to the committee’s assessment of technology readiness levels, they are not intended to suggest what the Army requirements should be, or even which applications the Army should undertake for technology integration experiments.
Focusing on a few specific applications for the experimental prototypes, some of which may be simulated, is essential to maturing the needed technologies and resolving the significant issues of system integration. The focus on applications would organize the capabilities development effort into manageable components, each with a clear operational outcome to be achieved. While capabilities may mature at different rates, the program as a whole would address technical challenges of all applications concurrently. The application prototypes should be selected to develop capabilities needed for FCS and the Objective Force. The roadmaps developed in Chapter 7 were built around four such applications, but they illustrate only one of many possible combinations for evolutionary development.
Recommendation 2. The Army should adopt a “skunk-works” approach to develop technologies necessary for autonomous A-to-B mobility, so that such capabilities can be fielded with a small number of unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) classes, each of which is an experimental prototype for a compelling military application. TRADOC and the research and development community should commit to a spiral development process for refining and evolving concept-based requirements for UGVs, depending on what is learned from these technology-integrating prototypes.
SYSTEMS ENGINEERING CHALLENGE
Even when all underlying technologies for a UGV application have reached TRL 6, a great deal of work will be required for integrating specific technologies into one or more UGV systems capable of accomplishing FCS missions. In fact, the committee concluded that the greatest technical challenge for fielding UGVs of significant value to FCS and the Objective Force is likely to be technology integration and systemization as described in Chapter 6.
Adequate time must be allowed for the technologies that are developed to be put together and tested in the field in ways that give the developer and the user community feedback on how to improve a given concept. The user and developer communities must work together to provide direction for the technology integration to implement vehicle experiments. These directions should feed into the spiral development process from experimental prototypes to requirements-based systems following the established development process. For example, application parameters must be formulated to address the integration of the mission package technologies, mobility technologies, and communications technologies that are necessary for each experimental prototype.
The UGV program must adopt a systems development approach. Performance metrics and other assessment methodologies must be established that provide objective feedback to developers and users on how well an application-oriented experimental prototype is performing as an integrated system. Such an approach is needed to ensure integration across the presently stovepiped programs for individual contributing technologies.
Systems engineering discipline could be introduced by emphasizing hardware and software in-the-loop simulations. When appropriately instrumented, such simulations could aid in accomplishing architecture design and optimization and, most importantly, algorithm benchmarking. The goals would be to establish a focused UGV technology base, encourage rapid experimental prototyping, and enable near-real-time performance assessment.
Several supporting technologies, while not part of the autonomous behavior architecture, will nonetheless be critical to UGV system developments. Technologies needed for human–robot interaction (HRI), mobility, power, communications, and vehicle health maintenance will be different from those developed for manned systems. Research in these areas is heavily dependent on systems engineering to identify requirements.
Software quality is also an important issue, requiring extensive software engineering, re-implementation, and performance assessments to field a given system. The impact software quality has on the performance of current UGVs is unknown.
Systems engineering is also important for the spiral process of defining requirements for UGV vehicles as integral components of an FCS unit of operation. The FCS is a system of systems, and UGV systems must operate within the broader FCS system architecture. The overall architectural decisions for the system of systems should determine many of the requirements that are imposed on individual elements such as the UGVs, rather than vice versa. Technology development in all areas will be heavily dependent on system prototypes.
Recommendation 3. The Army should begin planning for unmanned ground vehicle UGV system development now. Systems-engineering processes should be used to inform and guide the development of UGV operational concepts and technology.
ADVOCATE FOR UGV DEVELOPMENT
In the absence of clear requirements to drive UGV development efforts, the UGV technology program must be one of developing capabilities. Without focus and advocacy, a capabilities-driven process is likely to suffer from diffusion and incoherence. Although the existing STO programs may have specific capability objectives (see Chapter 3), the efforts do not automatically add up to a coherent, coordinated program for UGV technology development.
The Army’s UGV program must cut across existing program stovepipes and increase resources. If the objective is to field a network-centric autonomous ground vehicle for the Objective Force, then the Army must dedicate resources now to 6.2–6.4 developments with a common focus on achieving this end. A strong central advocate is needed.
Experience has shown that the Army responds well to challenges that are represented by high-level positions or organizations dedicated to a single purpose. The Army Digitization Office, established in the 1990s by the Army Chief of Staff, provides a good example of how such focus can be used to move a project forward that might otherwise become lost in the bureaucracy. Similarly, special Army selection boards exist to select highly qualified personnel for designation as program managers (PMs) for technology and system developments of high-level importance.
Although UGV system concepts and requirements are not sufficiently advanced to merit the same approach at this time, extraordinary measures analogous to the Digitization Office initiative should be considered as the UGV program matures beyond the science and technology (S&T) stage. In the interim, a board-selected PM for UGV technology and system developments would be able both to serve as an advocate for autonomous systems and to focus development effort on achieving A-to-B mobility capabilities and developing experimental prototypes, thereby advancing the experimen-
tation and acceptance of UGV systems. This new position would contrast with the present PM positions (for FCS and Objective Force), which are focused on objectives that can be achieved with or without a dollar of investment in underlying UGV technology. The new position would not duplicate the functions of the DOD UGV PM position, which is focused on integrating UGV systems using existing technologies in response to specific DOD-endorsed requirements.
Recommendation 4a. The Army should designate a Program Manager for Unmanned Ground Vehicles (PM-UGV) to coordinate research, development, and acquisition of Army UGV systems. The PM-UGV would act for the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology) to manage Army UGV technology developments, approve technology base planning, provide acquisition guidance, and oversee resource allocation. The PM would be the Army’s principal advocate for unmanned ground systems and single point of contact for UGV developments with the Joint Program Office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and other agencies.
Recommendation 4b. As the unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) program matures beyond the S&T stage, the Army should consider additional extraordinary measures, analogous to the successful Army digitization initiatives, to ensure sufficient focus on developing and fielding UGV systems for the Future Combat Systems and the Objective Force.
BOX 8-2 Task Statement Question 5.b
Question: What can be recommended on the technical content, time lines and milestones based on these assessments?
Answer: Recommendations 1–4 address the technical content, time lines, and milestones of UGV efforts for FCS. First, the Army should focus S&T efforts on the perception technology area, with other priority areas dependent upon the particular capability class that is determined for UGV systems in FCS. Second, the Army should adopt a “skunk-works” approach to develop the essential perception technologies to enable autonomous A-to-B mobility capabilities that can be fielded with multiple UGV systems as experimental prototypes for possible insertion in the FCS program. Third, the Army must begin immediately to fill a void in systems engineering by defining system requirements, planning for life-cycle support, establishing milestones for development of assessment methods and metrics for UGV systems, and taking advantage of modeling and simulation tools. Finally, the Army should designate a high-level advocate to accelerate S&T time lines and take the lead in integrating UGV technologies into prototypical systems.
The study’s four recommendations provide the basis for the answer to Task Statement Question 5.b in Box 8-2.