DARPA is experimenting with giving driverless combat vehicles off-road autonomy

Autonomous software stacks for the DARPA-provided robot systems have been developed by Carnegie Mellon University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the University of Washington. Each of these models were tested in “Experiment 1” earlier this year at Fort Irwin, California, and are now involved in the current new trials.

Experiment 1 ran through March-April 2022 on six courses of combat-relevant terrain where each of the teams undertook more than 40 autonomous runs of about 2 miles each, reaching speeds just under 20 miles per hour.

“The biggest challenge the teams faced in that desert environment was the vehicles’ ability to identify, classify, and avoid obstacles at higher speeds. The terrain at Fort Irwin provided a number of obstacles (rocks, bushes, ditches, etc.) that were a combination of debilitating hazards (able to severely damage the vehicle) and non-debilitating impediments (limited ability to damage the vehicle),” stated DARPA.

“Since the first experiment, teams have been working to improve perception of the environment and planning navigable routes through development of new autonomy algorithm technologies,” said Stuart Young, RACER program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.

“The DARPA-provided RACER fleet vehicles being used in the program are high performance all-terrain vehicles outfitted with world-class sensing and computational abilities, but the teams’ focus is on computational solutions as that platform encounters increasingly complex off-road terrain.”

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