Lighter Weight, Increased Maneuverability and Strength Signal Latest Breakthroughs in Autonomous Vehicle Technology
For over 20 years, Carnegie Mellon's National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) has defined the state-of-the-art in autonomous vehicle technologies. Housed in the School of Computer Science's Robotics Institute, researchers at the NREC develop futuristic technologies that have applications in everything from construction to farming, mining, and military capabilities. Among the most recent advances designed at the NREC is "Crusher," a 6.5-ton, unmanned ground vehicle (UGC) that offers unparalleled strength, mobility, and autonomy features to keep our soldiers safe.
Crusher is modeled after the previous-generation "Spinner," whose impressive results in field tests convinced the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to award a large follow-on program to the original UGC Vehicle PerceptOR Integration (UPI) project.
Crusher's advanced perception techniques and sensor and learning capabilities allow it to navigate rugged terrain while transporting more than 8,000 pounds of payload and armor. Its six wheels boast individual suspension for maximum mobility, and its high-strength aluminum tube hull and titanium nodes protected by a steel skid plate can absorb shocks from impacts with rocks or tree stumps.
In addition to sheer brawn, Crusher moves at a top speed of 26 mph and utilizes electric motors embedded in each of its wheels to power a hybrid system that runs on a turbo diesel generator to recharge its batteries.
Although Crusher is a prototype, officials envision similar autonomous vehicles in military convoy or support roles in the not-so-distant future. And recent tests at Ft. Bliss, Texas, in which the vehicle maneuvered more than 100km of soldier-designed obstacles and natural terrain, may push that goal even closer.
"In five to ten years, we should see robots working alongside our troops to protect them and help with tasks in the field," said Dr. John Bares, director of the NREC and associate research professor at the Robotics Institute.
DARPA's original $5.5 million sponsorship called for the NREC and its subcontractors, including Boeing, PEI Electronics, and Timoney Technology, to roll out a prototype by the end of 2002.
To view a video of Crusher in action click here.