VICKSBURG, Miss.— The Robotics for Engineer Operations (REO) team at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) successfully conducted demonstrations of their Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) without the use of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) at the Position, Navigation, Timing Assessment Experiment (PNTAX).
PNTAX is part of Army Futures Command’s campaign of persistent experimentation and continuous learning, where participants field-test their technology to understand its operational effectiveness in a denied and degraded environment. This experiment provided the opportunity to run tests focused on localization and freedom of movement of an UGV on challenging roads and rugged combat trails, while access to standard navigation was not available.
ERDC’s REO team, comprised of researchers from the Information Technology Laboratory, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, Geospatial Research Laboratory and Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory, all participated.
Chief Warrant Officer Charles Bashor (CW4) from the Construction Engineering Research Lab said events like this are crucial in the development of up-and-coming warfighting technology.
“Events like PNTAX provide the challenging, Army-relevant environments and Soldier touchpoints that allow ERDC to accurately test the capabilities they develop early in the development cycle and incorporate the feedback,” Bashor explained. These demonstrations simultaneously help support AFC’s mission, to transform the Army through innovation and ensure war-winning future readiness.
The field experiments took place over three day and three-night operations, providing the REO team a chance to experience varying lighting and environmental conditions, mimicking the challenging terrains these vehicles may encounter in future conflict. ERDC’s REO team utilized their UGVs to perform test runs and obtain key performance metrics of their mapping capabilities. With a goal of mapping a specific area without using GNSS positioning, the experiments tested ERDC-developed algorithms for absolute and relative localization in environments with few distinctive features.
At PNTAX, the robotic platforms operated autonomously on combat trails, and the developed algorithms were minimally impacted by the active GPS jamming/spoofing signals present. With this success, ERDC Senior Research Scientist Dr. Anton Netchaev said their team is ecstatic about REO’s progress.
"I believe that our team truly united under the challenging environments of PNTAX, and the performance of the capabilities delivered by REO has exceeded our initial expectations,” said Netchaev. This shows ERDC’s advancement in creating GNSS-denied operational capabilities for the Army, even in areas where key features are limited.
Operating fully autonomously, these UGVs allow Soldiers to perform their missions from a safe location, while providing the most up to date information about the battlespace, including terrain features, go/no-go zones, location and type of obstacles, etc. Through multiple Soldier touchpoints, technology is placed into the Soldier’s hands, allowing them to experiment with the technology and offer direct end-user feedback.
Data from the experiment will also be utilized by AFC’s Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team, which is writing the requirements for the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle program. As part of the Army’s Human Machine Integrated Formations (HMIF) concept, RCVs will be fielded in Brigade Combat Teams and will deliver increased situational awareness, lethality, and tactical options for Army formations in support of multi-domain operations. Its operators will remotely control RCVs or task them to operate semi-autonomously. Variants will serve as “scouts” or “escorts” for manned fighting vehicles.
The ERDC REO team will build on their success at PNTAX by incorporating a variety of supporting elements and enhancing navigational capabilities for military off-road operations. “The team will continue to expand the UGV's capabilities by including other sensing modalities,” said REO Project Lead Dr. Ahmet Soylemezoglu, “This will help provide the Engineers with a more complete picture.”
To further their experimentation, the REO team will participate in the annual Maneuver Support, Protection Integration Experiments (MSPIX 24) by the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence Battle Lab.