The Science Applications International Corporation has received a $58 million contract with Darpa to construct an Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vehicle to chase down evil submarines. Promising a 60 to 90 day stint out in the water, the ACTUV will track with sonar and other sensors and link back to the Navy ship via satellite. It will then follow the sub to its port or return to its own. If you can make it through this rather lengthy video you will get a better idea of the autonomous bot's place in the battlefield water.
Under the leadership of Ron Arkin, Georgia Tech has been borrowing from the habits of squirrels who seem to be masters at stashing food and keeping other ones from finding their caches. They taught deception to a robot that will give false clues to another one so that it will be unsuccessful when it goes hunting for the first. Future application may be in the military for storage of weapons or in health care with a bot having a calming effect in the face of disaster.
Hubo II is Korea's Advanced Institute of Science and Technology robot that they are preparing for the next DARPA Challenge. He has been taught to do some basic dance moves, walk, run and other practical tasks like valve turning. And since KAIST is located in Korea, you know that they have taught him Gangnam Style, a more advanced routine than the one executed by Charli 2. By the way, you can get your own Hubo for a cool $400,000.
Researchers from Georgia Tech have used a dragonfly as a basis for a micro UAV. The four-winged TechJect is small enough to fit in a palm but has the capability to be used as a quadricopter, helicopter and fixed wing aircraft. Four years of research and development went into the project with $1 million dollars worth of funding from the Air Force and some from Indiegogo. The 6" long insectbot weighs 0.88 oz. it can be flown by RC or an iPad, smartphone or computer.
A declassified document was recently found in the National Archives that featured a VTOK aircraft that was being built for the Canadian government in 1952 by Avro Aircraft until they found it too expensive. In 1955, the U.S. Army and Air Force decided to pick up the tab on the vehicle that had a wing span of 18 ft., a height of 4 ft. 10-inches and a weight of 4,620 lbs.. The ultimate goal was to build a hovercraft capable of reaching a speed of Mach 4 (2,880 mph) and a height of 100,000 feet (19 miles.)
Needless to say, the project was scrapped in 1961 when a model of the VZ-9AV Avrocar with turbojet engines uncontrollably rolled when tested above 3 feet and only hit a speed of 35 mph. The vehicle is now in the USAF's National Museum where all can lament its demise or appreciate it as a fine example of military intelligence during the Cold War.
DARPA and Boston Dynamics have been paired to create Big Dog and Cheeta robots for years now, the latter of which broke its own speed record of 18 mph by going 28.3 mph in a 20 meter split. As a reference, Usain Bolt set a human record in 27.78 mph in 2009. This is all very well and good, but we want to know, what's the rush?
Sandia National Laboratories has produced a robotic hand to assist in bomb disposal. Funded by DARPA, the Sandia Hand is remote-controlled. The hand can grip, move like its human counterpart and repair itself. Because it is modular, different types of fingers can easily be attached, yet it can continue to function without one of its fingers. The robohand has 12º of freedom and comes at a price of $10,000, well worth it when you think of the humans it can protect.
Last year, Harvard researchers developed silicone-based robots inspired by sea creatures like squid and octopi. Now, there's a new twist. It seems that they can now either disguise themselves or glow in the dark. Created with 3D printers, colors can be injected into them. Needless to say, the first application can be quite handy for military use, while the second can be used as a visual marker. Fortunately, they are still in experimental stage so we will not get too paranoid. The team is hoping to eventually make them autonomous.
Researchers from MIT, Harvard and Seoul National University are working on an autonomous wormbot that moves across a surface by contracting nickel-titanium body segments via running currents. Made of soft materials, you can even step on Meshworm or give it a couple of hammer hits and it just keeps on trucking slithering. The project was funded by DARPA and future applications may include navigating in rough terrain or tight places.
MIT has developed another bot worthy of praise. After teaming with Office of Naval Research and Bluefin Robotics, the autonomous third generation Hovering Autonomous Underwater Vehicle scans underwater for mines. The HAUV3 can seek them out by emitting a signal from a sonar camera under a ship, bridge or underwater tanks. And while it cannot yet distinguish between a hull irregularity and mine, the vehicle can at least assist human divers. The Navy has put in a contract for two of the systems with a half million dollar investment for each one.
Chiba University's Nonami Group have been developing mini drones that can fly in formation. The quadcopters do this with cameras that capture certain markers on the ground then sends the images back to the host computer. Position and attitude are calculated fast enough to prevent collision. Future applications could include disaster inspection, volcanic eruptions and power line inspection.
We try to keep up with the latest in military robotics, so most of the participants of the recent Robeo in Ft. Benning, GA are familiar to us. This is a US Army annual 10-day event that challenges robots against each other in mock battle. Both new and updated bots took on each other with 45 companies, 5 universities and 74 technologies represented.
TARDEC (Detroit's Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center) ran 3 vignettes, testing reconnaissance, autonomous supply and foxhole digging. JIEDDO (the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization) ran four of them that centered on counter-IED missions with reconnaissance, bomb detection, endurance and disruption.
Vendors are represented as well and found out how to improve the efficiency of their tools. Check out some of the other participants via the link.
Because delivering supplies can often be dangerous due to terrain or hostile territory, Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace turned its K-MAX into a UAS. The helicopter can be controlled by remote control or used autonomously and can handle up to 6,000 lbs. of cargo at sea level, 4,000 lbs. at 15,000 feet. Since it was employed by the military in 2007, it has flown over 750 hours in autonomous mode and will continue to serve in Afghanistan until September.
The U.S. Air Force's X-37B returned to Earth this past Saturday after being in orbit for over 15 months. Originally part of NASA as an experimental project, when funding ran out DARPA got custody. They passed it on to the Air Force in 2006. The robotic plane, aka Orbital Test Vehicle-2, performed "on-orbit experiments" and there is much speculation as to why its purpose is so hush-hush.
Some say it could be a dreaded space weapon while others believe it might be used for spying. The AF contends that it is simply "to put experiments in space and bring them back and check out the technologies,"
We would like to think it had a much more exotic part in the grand scheme of things, such as alien communication or practicing for the time when robotic takeover forces us to leave our mother Earth. Regardless of its usage, the next flight should be later this year when the first X-37B takes the OTV-1 into the final frontier.