Speaking Tuesday at the National Defense Industry Association’s Ground Robotics Capabilities Conference, Don Sando, deputy to the commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, told attendees that ongoing work in robotics is leading to the likely creation of a Robotics Center of Innovation.
Organizers are planning for their first Robotics Industry Day in June, he said, adding that the center is still in the idea stage and could take the form of a virtual, physical or combined space.
The aim would be to get robotics development and testing to the soldier level, as the increasingly advanced systems are brought into the Army.
Last week, soldiers in Grafenwoehr, Germany, for the first time used remote-controlled robots to breach lanes for tanks and other vehicles in a training exercise, Sando said.
The event featured an aerial drone loaded with sensors to detect contamination, other drones flying reconnaissance, and a robot doing the breaching of obstacles, clearing a path for vehicles to pass.
Tanks and fighting vehicles provided suppressing fire as part of the exercise, according to Stars and Stripes.
That puts the robot, instead of the soldier, in danger.
“It keeps us safe from being out there like sitting ducks,” Pvt. Jonathon Ramirez, an engineer with the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team told Stripes.
Two brigade combat teams will receive the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport vehicle for testing this year. The vehicle is autonomous and can carry 1,000 pounds of gear for the infantry squad over certain terrain.
The planning and development of those systems is, in part, happening at Fort Benning.
Sando said that a variety of players from military to industry to academic are looking to put together a type of center at the Georgia-based installation for ongoing work.
Recent examples include an announcement last month that the Army will select one of four autonomous robotic systems that can carry up to 1,000 pounds of gear for the infantry squad and give them to two brigade combat teams for testing.
The Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport would carry heavy loads for dismounted troops or in support of light vehicles.
Another effort will put a smaller robot in soldiers’ hands for a different mission.
Another decision is expected with the Common Robotics System Individual, a man-packable ground robot that weighs less than 20 pounds and can feature a variety of payloads from sensors to cameras.
The goal of the CRSI is for squad-sized units to have a small robot to do short-range advance reconnaissance, checking out an area for threats.