UK gets self-driving tech for military buggies
When the Royal Marines go into battle on buggy-like MRZR transports, they may be able to send the transports back for supplies without humans driving. The MRZR is a lightweight four-wheeled unarmored vehicle that is practically just a body frame around a general-purpose chassis. For its declared mission of rapid transport over rough terrain, it is an ideal shape. Like most vehicles, it is driven by a human being. But to make it even more versatile and to risk fewer lives on military missions, the UK MoD wants a suite of sensors and automated driving tools to allow the vehicle to operate autonomously.
On August 16, defense firm Rheinmetall Canada announced that it had fitted a PATH autonomy kit to a Polaris-manufactured MRZR D4 for the first time, as part of Protect Theseus for the UK Ministry of Defense. United. Project Theseus is “an initiative to automate the delivery of supplies to soldiers in hostile environments,” and the PATH Kit is an AI-powered navigation system that should help with that goal.
“Under Project Theseus, it is hoped that the use of autonomous air or ground platforms to deliver combat supplies, including ammunition, equipment, food and fuel, will reduce the need for personnel to risk their lives by entering generally hostile environments. the British Army said in a statement in January.
Rheinmetall’s contract was awarded in February and the installation of the PATH kit on the MRZR is a demonstration of its capabilities. The contract will equip up to 11 MRZR D4 vehicles with the kit.
“When equipped with the A-kit, the MRZR D4 will be ready for crewed and teleoperated use cases, as well as autonomous execution of resupply missions in complex terrain, in adverse weather conditions, day or night. “, writes Rheinmetall.
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The lightweight vehicle seats four, or six with a few extra seats, and despite weighing just 2,100 pounds, it can carry up to 1,500 pounds of people and/or cargo. The MRZR D4 can also be fitted with one or two litters to transport the wounded or dead from battle and into safer environments.
“It doesn’t have armor protection, so it’s more for maneuver and agility than weapon systems,” said Chris Burge, a Royal Marines warrant officer, when testing the MRZR with a crew in 2021. “Guys are loving it. It’s something new and the capability is better than what we usually have. The guys are on the pitch and now understand the limitations and capabilities in tough and demanding conditions.
By adding an autonomous kit, soldiers or marines could have the ability to dispatch the vehicle to resupply or evacuate casualties without exposing a human driver to enemy fire. When testing the crewed version in 2021, Marines noted that its lightweight body made it ideal for quick attacks on unsuspecting targets, like radar or missile installations.
If all goes well, a light vehicle can put the commandos out of harm’s way after the mission. If they need more ammo or other supplies, sending the vehicle alone allows troops to hide or fight without having to manage the vehicle in combat.
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“Vehicles equipped with PATH can then safely and reliably navigate complex terrain in hostile weather conditions, reducing troop exposure to hazardous situations. State-of-the-art AI enables PATH to navigate autonomously using sensor fusion and environmental mapping,” says Rheinmetall.
Combat resupply is a difficult mission. While soldiers go to war with plenty of supplies, a long fight in a fixed position can deplete those supplies. And of course, an attack that destroys a transport vehicle can destroy the supplies inside. Getting relief most often means sending more troops, but if lines are stretched or there are simply none available, troops may be forced to wait or retreat.
Autonomous refueling, by land vehicle or flying drone, can make the difference in a fight and in the survival of a fight. But for this to work, the vehicle performing the resupply must arrive safely and not endanger anyone else in the process. Autonomous motor vehicle navigation is a difficult problem in environments as simple as highway driving. Add the variables of rough terrain and combat, and it can get a lot tougher.
Steps to mitigate this risk could include combining information from multiple sensors, mapping the environment while the vehicle is moving, and communicating with other vehicles as well as remote human operators. Adding the ability for the buggy that transports soldiers into battle to pull them out if the mission goes wrong is a tremendous boon for forces that operate alone and light, like navies in particular or expeditionary armies in general.