Driverless trucks set to join soldiers in autonomous convoys made a successful demonstration of their abilities during a test carried out in Fort Hood, Texas. The system has been developed by Lockheed Martin and uses many of the same control algorithms as their missile and fire control systems. Instead of building an entire vehicle, the vehicle is automated via the quick installation of a kit known as the Autonomous Mobility Applique System, or AMAS. The AMAS hardware kit includes an extra GPS tracker and an advanced LIDAR array loaded with speciality software. Any vehicle in the U.S. military’s fleet can be equipped with the system, and the successful test bodes well for a future where soldiers no longer have to participate in convoys at all, as convoys are currently one of the most dangerous parts of a soldiers deployment. The success of the technology bodes well for safer soldiers, and improvements on the way for civilian drivers as well.
Because the simple is so simple to install, there are implications for civilian vehicles as well. Currently self driving cars meant for general use are built as a cohesive unit from the ground up, with the automating hardware and software built right into the vehicle. Being able to add the AMAS system to cars that people already know and love may be the answer to making mass automated vehicles a reality. Studies have shown that highway efficiency can be improved by condensing the number of vehicles on a road to fit as many commuters into as small an area as possible. Unfortunately, human error makes it nearly impossible to drive in traffic that dense, leading to highways that feel cramped even though they are only a third full, and eight lanes wide. AMAS vehicles are all connected so they know what each member of the convoy plans to do. AMAS was able to traverse crowded highways littered with stalled and slow vehicles, modifications for keeping pace on the highway are a stones throw away. But although driverless vehicles set to join soldiers in autonomous convoys will be rolling out shortly, its unlikely that highway use is in the near future.
But for military applications the AMAS is ideally suited. The system was able to manoeuvre two 10-wheeled palletized loading vehicles and an M915 tractor-trailer through crowded urban areas as well, keeping the vehicles clear of oncoming traffic, passing traffic, and strolling pedestrians. The system is built into the vehicle in such a way that human control can be taken back in an instant should there be a malfunction, but there has been no need for that so far. Driverless vehicles set to join soldiers in autonomous convoys marks another turning point in the push from the U.S. military to dehumanize warfare and allow soldiers to stay safe far away from the front lines. As combat robotics advance and more machines begin to take the place of soldiers, fighter pilots and submarine operators, as the U.S. military has said it intends to do, how smart should we allow these machines to be?
By Daniel O’Brien