Posts tagged ‘DARPA’

Robots, Droids & Drones: AI and Mostly Unmanned Helicopters.


A Wing Man, Not a Lead.

While the U.S. Navy is all for integrating Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, humans will always be the lead in the decision-making process, according to an admiral.

MQ-25A Stingray (Photo courtesy of Boeing)

Rear Admiral Paul Spedero Jr., the director of Fleet Integrated Readiness and Analysis at U.S. Fleet Forces Command, says “From a warfighting perspective, artificial intelligence subsets would be enablers or augments to the human in the loop.” Spedero said that has always been the Navy’s approach and he doesn’t see that changing, according to the Seapower magazine website.

“There are some things that can’t be replaced; the experience of a seasoned warfighter in the field being able to assess things that a machine — no matter how much we teach it — may never be able to pick up on,” he told an April 8 Navy League webinar sponsored by Deloitte. Having a human in the loop is a “necessity for war fighting will never go away,” he said, adding  “AI will be our wingmen. It will not be the lead in a fight.”

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Mix and Match.

The Navy is looking at both manned and unmanned aircraft to replace its aging rotary-wing (helicopter) fleet, another admiral says.

Rear Admiral Gregory Harris, who leads the chief of naval operation’s air warfare directorate, told a recent Navy League breakfast that the service’s Future Vertical Lift program will include a family of systems, an approach similar to the one it’s taking for the Next Generation Air Dominance program.

An MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter prepares to land aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in 2015. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andre T. Richard)

“We are working on what we’re calling Future Vertical Lift maritime strike – which is a family of manned and unmanned systems which will be a key component of our distributed maritime operations,” he said, adding “We are early in the stages of doing our development for that,” the USNI News website reported.

Harris said the Navy has hosted sessions with industry to discuss Future Vertical Lift and the service plans to start an analysis of alternatives (AOA) this fall. The MH-60R and MH-60S helicopters – which the FVL program is meant to replace – will come to the end of their service lives during the later part of the 2020s, Harris said.

The Army, Navy and Marine Corps are all pursuing FVL, but Harris added the Navy’s requirements – that its platform must operate off of the cruisers and destroyers — restricts the weight and size of aircraft, USNI News noted.

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Unmanned Black Hawk.

Sikorsky has demonstrated optionally piloted flight technology on an S-70 Black Hawk, highlighting a future in which the service’s next-generation helicopters may fly autonomously in combat , according to the website.

S-70i Black Hawks (Courtesy Lockheed Martin)

A contender in the Army Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, Sikorsky demonstrated the supervised autonomy capabilities of the Black Hawk — which was equipped with the company’s Matrix autonomous flight software and hardware — under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Aircrew Labor In-cockpit Automation System, or ALIAS, effort.

Sikorsky’s test pilot used a special control tablet to oversee the demo as the aircraft conducted an autonomous takeoff, avoided two simulated obstacles and landed by itself, according to a March 29 Sikorsky news release.

Sikorsky, part of Lockheed Martin Corp., developed its Raider X prototype helicopter for the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, or FARA, effort, to replace the AH-64 Apache. And a team from Sikorsky-Boeing developed the Defiant X to compete in the service’s Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA, effort, which is designed to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk., noted.

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 Anduril Industries, Venture-backed defense technology company, Anduril Industries, has acquired Georgia-based, air-launched effects company Area-I, according to Defense News and other news outlets.

“The acquisition expands Anduril’s portfolio of unmanned aerial systems, creates new opportunities for its software-defined capabilities such as mission autonomy and intelligent teaming and significantly accelerates the company’s strategic growth,” Anduril’s April 1 announcement said.

The company will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary under the Area-I brand, according to the Anduril statement.

California-based Anduril specializes in advancing technology like artificial intelligence, computer vision, sensor fusion, optics and automation to “radically transform U.S. defense capabilities and solve complex national security challenges,” according to the company.

April 11, 2021 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

Robots, Droids & Drones: Fighter Jets and AI Wingmen; Expanding Drone Warfare in Africa; SeaGuardian Maritime Tests

Artificial Intelligence in the Cockpit.

Recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI) doesn’t mean AI will be replacing fighter jet pilots anytime soon, say Pentagon officials.

“I don’t see human fighter pilots being phased out. I see their effectiveness being enhanced by cooperation with artificial intelligence systems,” says Dr. Mark J. Lewis — the Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Seapower magazine reports.

An AI algorithm developed by Heron Systems defeated an experienced F-16 fighter pilot in all five rounds of virtual air combat on August 20 at the Alpha Dogfight Trials. It was the culmination of a year-long competition — originally involving eight teams — in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Air Combat Evolution program (ACE). The ACE program seeks to increase humans’ trust in combat autonomy through human-machine collaborative dogfighting.

Heron Systems’ artificial intelligence algorithm defeated an experienced F-16 fighter pilot in five straight virtual dogfights.

“The key takeaway was the artificial intelligence system did so well because it wasn’t so concerned about self-preservation.  It was willing to do things that a human pilot wouldn’t do and that’s the advantage of artificial intelligence,” Lewis told a virtual conference on technology and strategy in the era of Great Power competition presented by Defense News.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper was so impressed by the Alpha Dogfight results that he announced at the Pentagon’s AI Symposium on September 9th that the ACE program will proceed to testing AI against humans flying actual fighter aircraft in 2024.

However, Esper was quick to assure a world increasingly nervous about armed automatons, Breaking Defense noted. “To be clear, AI’s role in our lethality is to support human decision-makers, not replace them,” Esper said, adding, “We see AI as a tool to free up resources, time, and manpower so our people can focus on higher priority tasks, and arrive at the decision point, whether in a lab or on the battlefield, faster and more precise than the competition.”

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Drones in Hot Pursuit.

U.S. Africa Command wants the authority to carry out armed drone strikes targeting al Qaeda-linked al Shabab fighters in portions of eastern Kenya, the New York Times reported September 15. American officials say that could expand the war zone across the border from Shabab’s sanctuaries in Somalia.

The push for the expanded authority traces back to a January  2020 Shabab attack on a military base in Kenya that housed U.S. troops. The attack on the airfield at Manda Bay killed three Americans and caused millions of dollars in damage. Since 2010, al-Shabab has killed hundreds of innocent people outside the borders of Somalia.

The eastern border of Kenya with Somalia on the Horn of Africa.

The attack caught American and Kenyan forces by surprise, but Marine Raiders — the Special Operations unit of the Marine Corps — were in a base about a mile away and led the counter attack,  Marine Corps Times reported at the time. About a dozen Marines from 3rd Marine Raider Battalion, based out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, led Kenyan commandos against the Islamic militants in an intense firefight with the Shabab militants, ultimately pushing the Islamic fighters out of the military base. However, the attackers eluded pursuers and fled back to Somalian territory.

As they confronted the fallout from the debacle, officials recognized that they lacked guidelines to conduct drone strikes in Kenya should Shabab attack there again, the Times noted.

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SeaGuardian Shows Maritime Capabilities

An MQ-9B SeaGuardian. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA‑ASI) has concluded a set of maritime test flights over the sea-lanes off the coast of Southern California, using the MQ-9B SeaGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), the company announced September 14.

It was the first MQ-9B to be configured for surveillance operations over open-water and the flights demonstrated MQ-9B capabilities in the maritime environment, Seapower magazine noted.

SeaGuardian is an MQ-9B SkyGuardian configured for maritime ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) mission. The SkyGuardian, itself, is a variant of General Atomics’ venerable Predator B large surveillance and attack drone.

The Southern California test flight demonstrated how SeaGuardian can be used for a variety of maritime missions, including surface search, subsurface search, littoral surveillance, anti-piracy and search and rescue.

September 17, 2020 at 3:55 pm Leave a comment

DROIDS & DRONES: Medical Supply Test; Euro Drone Swarms; More Pumas for DHS

Testing Medical Supply Drones.

The U.S. Marine Corps, in conjunction with California drone maker Zipline, has been testing unmanned aircraft as combat zone delivery systems for medical supplies.

Zipline partnered with the Defense Department and Naval Medical Research Center to deploy its drones during four multinational military exercises in Australia this past summer (July 30 to September 5). Zipline made more than 400 deliveries, including mock blood resupplies to shock trauma platoons, MSNBC reported.

The Defense Department’s innovation unit came to the drone company because of its success transporting medical supplies by drone in the African countries of Rwanda and Ghana.

Zipline drone parachute

A Zipline drone-delivered package carrying three units of blood drifts to the ground. (Photo: courtesy Zipline).

The autonomous, fixed wing, catapult-launched drones made hundreds of deliveries of blood and other medical supplies in small parachute bundles dropped at their destinations. All told, they flew 461 day and night sorties and made 381 drops. It was the first time a U.S. Marine Air-Ground Task Force had incorporated autonomous drone delivery into their high availability, disaster recovery planning, according to the Defense One website.

It was not the first time the Marines have used drones for cargo delivery. Two unmanned K-MAX helicopters flew nearly 1,000 cargo missions in Afghanistan between 2011 and 2015. The Marines are still using the K-MAXes, which are currently being fitted with more autonomous capabilities. However, the Zipline drones offer a new realm of delivery options compared to a 3-ton K-MAX helicopter. The relatively small, fixed-wing Zipline drones, with a wingspan of around seven feet and a payload of just 4.5 pounds, can’t fly as fast or carry as much as the K-Max. But they are easier to load and operate, allowing them to make a lot more drops than the K-MAX, according to Defense One.

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Navy’s China Lake is expanding for future weapons, drones.

Despite two major earthquakes that struck California’s China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in early July, the Navy is moving ahead with expansion plans at the massive facility to accommodate new and future weaponry, including unmanned aerial vehicles,

The Navy has acquired more than 33,00 acres of public lands abutting China Lake’s  South Range, which houses the Weapons Division’s electronic warfare range complex.  The expansion would boost operations at China Lake’s vast land range complex by 25 percent, reports  U.S. Naval Institute News.

China Lake, 150 miles north of Los Angeles, is the Navy’s largest single landholding. Its vast weapons ranges and laboratories support a significant amount of military weapons research, development, testing and operations, according to USNI News.

However, it’s also in a seismically active region. The major earthquakes that struck on July 5 caused more than $4 billion in damages to facilities and infrastructure that affect some operations and will take years to restore.

Gremlins DARPA concept art

DARPA Gremlins program concept art. (Courtesy DARPA)

Among the operations affected was an initial demonstration flight for an air-launch-and-recovered swarming drone concept that had been planned for September. Dynetics, Inc., a science and technology firm based in Alabama, expected its initial flight test of the Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV) to occur last month. The test of the small, reusable unmanned vehicles operating with a C-130 transport aircraft is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Gremlins program under a $38.6 million contract for the demonstration phase, USNI NEWS reported.

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Europeans to study self learning drone swarms.

A European consortium is pitching the idea of training intelligent drone swarms to confuse, disable and destroy an enemy’s air defenses.

The proposal is part of the Prepartory Action on Defence Research effort by the European Union to improve collaboration on drones among member states. Participating countries are Finland, Germany, Slovenia, Estonia, the Netherlands and Austria.

The idea behind “SEAD Swarm” — which stands for “suppresion of enemy air defenses” — is to create necessary algorithms that would enable a mass of aerial drones to inspect the characteristics of air defense systems, distribute the information within the swarm and derive a plan of attack against weak points, according to Defense News. Actions taken could include blinding radar sensors, overwhelming anti-aircraft fire with kamikaze-type tactics, or attacking sites with explosive or electronic-warfare payloads.

If adopted by the EU, Defense News said, participating countries of would detail military officials to an advisory board to help ensure the planned simulations reflect real-world combat situations.

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Pentagon: Chinese drones for target practice only

The Pentagon says Chinese-manufactured drones it purchased months after their use was prohibited because of cybersecurity concerns are being used only as “targets” and are not being deployed with elite U.S. forces on missions.

Last month an investigation by the VOA website revealed the U.S. Air Force and the Navy had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on drones made by market-leader Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) for some of the military’s most sensitive and secretive operators — including the Air Force’s only special tactics wing and Navy SEAL teams.

In each case, the Pentagon said, the services used special exemptions granted by the the Defense Department’s acquisition and sustainment office “on a case by case basis, to support urgent needs.”

Many in Congress the Pentagon’s continued use of Chinese-manufactured drones as a possible security leak risk. Earlier this year, the Senate Armed Services Committee also included a provision in the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act banning the use of Chinese-made drones.

Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters October 18 that her office wrote the waivers in order to use the drones “on ranges in highly controlled conditions,” to test the U.S. military’s counterdrone capabilities.

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Border Patrol Drone Contract to AeroVironment

The U.S. Border Patrol has awarded a $5.25 million firm fixed-price contract award for AeroVironment Puma 3  unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and support equipment.

Delivery is anticipated by January, 2020 for the man-portable, fixed wing UAS, which is designed for land and maritime operations.

PUMA Border Patrol

The U.S. Border Patrol, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, will use the man-launched Puma 3 AE small unmanned aircraft system to extend its reach to remote border areas. (Photo courtesy AeroVironment)

Easy to transport, deploy and operate, the Puma system can be launched from anywhere, at any time, and requires no additional infrastructure, such as runways or launch devices.  The AeroVironment Puma flies for hours in the most extreme environments while producing high-resolution, continuous or on-demand spot surveillance of critical land and sea border areas at any time of the day or night.

October 24, 2019 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

DRONES AND and ‘DROIDS: NATO UAVs; Indian-U.S. drone development; DARPA smart drones

Finally, a NATO UAV.

NorthGrum NATO drone

Northrop Grumman officials and NATO leaders unveiled the first NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) aircraft in  2015. (Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman)

After years of delays, NATO will be getting its own surveillance drones for the first time, according to the German government. NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) drone — a variant of Northrop Grumman’s high altitude — is slated for delivery to an air base in Sigonella, Italy, sometime in the third quarter of 2019. Four additional systems, including drones and ground stations built by Airbus, will be delivered later in the year.

The trans-Atlantic alliance plans to use the aircraft  for a variety of missions from protecting ground troops to border control and counter-terrorism. The NATO drones will be able to fly for up to 30 hours at a time in all weather, providing near real-time surveillance data, writes Reuters’ Anderea Shalal.

U.S.-Indian Drone Cooperation.

The United States and India are working together on developing a small unmanned aerial system that could be launched from a cargo aircraft.

It’s all part of a broader technology effort known as the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), which looks for opportunities between the two countries  for co-production and development of military technologies, according to Defense News. The Pentagon’s acquisition chief, Ellen Lord, discussed the drone project with reporters on March 15 — the day after she hosted a delegation from India to discuss DTTI programs.

Lord said the system would have three targeted uses: humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, “cross-border operations,” and cave and tunnel inspection.

DARPA AI-Drone Program.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s think-outside-the-box scientific research unit, is studying how to equip reconnaissance drones with artificial intelligence (AI) to rapidly distinguish friend from foe in complex urban environments. Most military leaders believe conflicts in the near future will take place in large cities teeming with innocent, and not-so-innocent civilians. The congested urban landscape could pose a nightmare scenario of friendly fire incidents or civilian casualties.

DARPA’s Urban Reconnaissance through Supervised Autonomy (URSA) aims to develop technology to enable autonomous systems — supervised and operated by humans — to detect hostile forces and establish positive identification before any U.S. troops come in contact with them.

To overcome the complexity of the urban environment, URSA seeks to combine new knowledge about human behaviors, autonomy algorithms, integrated sensors and measurable human responses, to pick up the subtle differences between hostile and innocent people.

However, URSA’s program manager, Lieutenant Colonel Philip Root, says developing  such technology is “fraught with legal, moral, and ethical implications,” so  DARPA brought in ethics advisors from the project’s start, Defense One reports.

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April 24-25 — National Defense Industry Association (NDIA) Robotics Capabilities Conference, Columbus Georgia Convention & Trade Center, Columbus, Georgia,

April 29-May 2 — Association of Unmanned Vehicle System International (AUVSI) Exponential trade show, McCormick Place, Chicago, Illinois,

March 20, 2019 at 12:40 am Leave a comment

TECHNOLOGY: Using Lasers on Drones and Against Them.

Directed Energy Weapons.

Each branch of the U.S. military is developing directed energy technology — largely for defense against small, weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones.  But the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) wants to mount a laser on a drone to attack enemy ballistic missiles.


An artist’s rendering of a vehicle-mounted small laser defense against attacking drones being studied by DARPA. (DARPA photo).

Since the Air Force manned Airborne Laser system was cancelled as too expensive and impractical in 2012, the MDA has looked for a way of combining a compact, high-power laser with a high-flying aircraft that can stay aloft for extended periods. Such an aircraft, ideally a drone, would be able to destroy an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the boost stage — shortly after launch — when it is most vulnerable.

“Our goal eventually is to integrate a high-powered, solid-state laser on a long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle operating in the stratosphere where the atmospheric disturbance of the aircraft and the laser is significantly reduced,” Richard Matlock, MDA’s program executive for advanced technology told a missile defense conference last December.

Meanwhile, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)  is working on a counter drone laser system to protect moving ground vehicles. The agency’s Mobile Force Protection Program is seeking industry solutions for protecting high value ground assets from the growing threat of small weaponized drones.

C-130 Gunship.JPG

The Air Force wants to supplement the Gatling gun on the AC-130 gunship with a silent laser weapon. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

The Navy, which is the farthest along in weaponized laser development, is also helping Special Operations forces mount a directed energy weapon on Air Force AC-130 gunships. In addition to the big plane’s flying Gatling gun with a finite load of ammunition, directed energy would bring a silent, invisible capability that will be a game changer, according to Air Force Lieutenant General Bradley Heithold. Heithold, the principal deputy director for cost assessment and program evaluation at the Pentagon, is expected to outline the Defense Department’s roadmap for offensive and defensive directed energy weapons capabilities when he and Matlock speak at IDGA’s Directed Energy and Next Generation and Munitions conference later this month in Washington.

June 15, 2017 at 9:50 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (June 27, 2014)

Robo Mule

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Corporal Matthew Callahan)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Corporal Matthew Callahan)

A four-legged robot, known as the Legged Squad Support System, follows Lance Corporal Timothy Knaggs (center), a team leader with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment during an exercise at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows in Waimanalo, Hawaii.

The LS3 is designed to carry Marine’s supplies like water, food and ammunition through rough terrain and is undergoing concept-based experimentation. The machine is operated with a Tactical Radio Control (TRC) worn on the operator’s back. The LS3 operates in three modes; Joystick Mode allows for manual operation with a handheld controller; Go-To Mode, in which the operator sets a waypoint for the LS3 to travel to, and Follow Me Mode, where the machine uses sensors on the TRC to follow the operator as in this photo.

The Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, tested the LS3 as part of a wider testing of new equipment for the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory during Rim of the Pacific 2014 (RIMPAC), the world’s largest international maritime exercise in and around Hawaii.

LS3, also known as Robo Mule, was developed by Massachusetts robot manufacturer Boston Dynamics with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). and the Marine Corps. DARPA is the Pentagon’s think-outside-the-box research unit. Over the years it has come up with such breakthroughs as the predecessor to the Internet and radar-evading stealth technology.

To see a fascinating — and somewhat creepy — video of the LS3 in action, click here.

June 27, 2014 at 1:46 am Leave a comment

TECHNOLOGY: DARPA’S Part in Obama Brain Initiative

Pentagon Brainiacs to Study the Brain

Jens Langner image via Wikipedia

Jens Langner image via Wikipedia

The day after President Obama announced a new research initiative to study the human brain, a caller to a Washington radio talk show asked whether he should be concerned that a Pentagon agency – DARPA – was included in the White House brain initiative.

DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – is the Defense Department’s think-outside-the-box research arm. Since its creation in 1958 – in response to the launch of the first manmade spaced satellite, the Soviet Union’s Sputnik – DARPA has been behind some remarkable scientific developments including the Internet, Global Positioning Systems and radar-defeating stealth technology.

But what is the motivation for this government agency, known for high risk projects, to launch a high tech study of how the human brain works? The answer might surprise you. Forget The Manchurian Candidate,” brainwashing and mind control. DARPA is interested in helping people – war injured veterans in particular – recover their memory or their ability to use their limbs again.

DARPA intends to invest about $50 million next year in trying to understand the dynamic functions of the brain and coming up with breakthrough applications. Obama wants to spend a total of $100 million on projects to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure and even prevent brain disorders.

“This kind of knowledge of brain function could inspire the design of a new generation of information processing systems; lead to insights into brain injury and recovery mechanisms; and enable new diagnostics, therapies and devices to repair traumatic brain injury,” DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar, said on DARPA’s website.

According to to the Defense and Veterans’ Brain Injury Center, between the years 2000 and 2012, 266,810 members of the U.S. Armed Services sustained traumatic brain injuries. They ranged from mild (concussion) to penetrating (open head wound/brain penetrated). Most (82.4 percent) are mild, the DVBIJ said.

Defense Department chart

Defense Department chart

April 4, 2013 at 10:42 pm Leave a comment

TECHNOLOGY: DARPA Trying New Methods for Building Marines’ Amphibious Vehicle

Cool Video

Here’s an interesting invitation: Join a virtual community that’s helping the Defense Department’s “think outside the box” research unit develop a new amphibious armored personnel carrier for the Marine Corps.

DARPA thinks it can design a replacement for the Marines’ amphibious assault vehicles using Silicon Valley design techniques. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking for a way to develop a faster, cheaper way of producing expensive military systems like tanks, which ususally take a lot of time, research, testing – and money – to get from the drawing board to the production line.

The idea is to use information technology industry techniques like crowd sourcing, a virtual factory and correct-by-construction system design to oversee how all a system’s parts work and interact before you actually build it.

This YouTube video explains it all with far fewer words than we could.

For its first project, DARPA is taking a shot at designing, developing and building an infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) for the Marines, who saw their state-of-the-art Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program cancelled last year because of cost over-runs and production delays. The Marines are exploring their options for a replacement amphibious vehicle but they’re are happy to let DARPA try its project on a parallel track.

The Marines are free to reject the DARPA vehicle if it doesn’t meet their needs but DARPA officials feel the exercise will still be valuable in determining how new design and manufacturing techniques can significantly trim the time it takes to develop and build defense vehicles and weapons.

DARPA has opened registration for the Fast Adaptable Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG) Challenges, a series of three increasingly complex competitions that will use a collaborative process to design and fabricate its IFV.

According to DARPA, defense engineers or those with a military background can register online here for the first challenge, which will be focused on mobility and trhe vehicle’s drivetrain. The competition begins in 2013.

November 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm Leave a comment

TECHNOLOGY: Robotic Hand Can Disarm Roadside Bombs

Handy Device

Sandia National Labs – with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – has developed a modular robotic hand which scientists and engineers say could be used to disarm homemade bombs.

The Sandia robotic hand can grasp irregularly-shaped objects.
(Sandia Labs photo by Randy Montoya)

Such bombs, called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), are responsible for killing and maiming thousands of U.S. and allied troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. The human cost has been so high that the Pentagon created a separate agency – the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization – in 2006 to collect threat intelligence and develop technologies and training to counter the IED scourge.

DARPA is the think-outside-the-box research agency within the Defense Department, that has done ground-breaking work in computer science, robotics, aerospace and lasers. It developed ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet, as well as the Predator unmanned aircraft.

The new robotic hand is a promising addition in the fight against IEDs, not only because is it durable and almost as dexterous as a human hand, but because it is much cheaper than current versions of robotic hands — which can cost as much as $250,000.

The Sandia hand, as it is known, is expected to cost only about $10,000, according to officials at the New Mexico-based national laboratory. Curt Salisbury, the principal investigator on the hand project says hands are considered the most difficult part of any robotic system, and they are “also the least available due to the need for high dexterity at a low cost,.” he added.

The operator controls the robot hand with a wired glove which allows it to mimic human hand abilities. A video Sandia has put together shows the hand easily picking up objects like a rock, hammer or paper clip and performing delicate tasks like loading double-A batteries into a flashlight.

Developers believe using the robotic hand to disable an IED could help investigators track down the bomb makers. That’s because instead of simply blowing up an IED – and destroying evidence – authorities could disarm the explosive and preserve the evidence that could lead to more arrests and fewer bombs.

The robotic hand poses a less risky way to disarm roadside bombs.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ruth Pagan)

Sandia partnered with researchers at Stanford University in California to develop the robot hand’s hardware. DARPA is funding separate software research on a parallel track.

September 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm Leave a comment


June 2023


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