Autonomous tactical resupply: US-UK joint trials of driverless truck convoy, quadcopter drops

The United Kingdom and United States armies conducted joint trials in Michigan of a driverless resupply truck convoy, quadcopter last-mile supply drops and a 4×4 remotely piloted using an Xbox controller, the U.K. Ministry of Defence said in a Tuesday press release.

The MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) demonstrated the technologies during a week-long exercise in Michigan.

The Coalition Assured Autonomous Resupply demonstration was designed to test the unmanned tactical delivery of supplies to front-line operations, aiming to reduce risk to troops and provide on-demand delivery of food, fuel or ammunition to the front line, the release said. In a three-year project, the U.K and the U.S. are working with military and industry partners, commercial-off the-shelf suppliers and tech start-ups to work on tactical resupply.

“This particular project is spearheading solutions to the notoriously dangerous operation of supplying our frontline on the battlefield,” U.K. Defence Minister Harriett Baldwin said. “Delivering crucial food, fuel and ammo remotely will help save soldiers’ lives.”

Driverless truck resupply convoy

The demonstration saw a British Army MAN SV 6-tonne truck leading two U.S. Army Light Medium Tactical Vehicles.

“This is the first time that we have created a UK-US coalition semi-autonomous leader-follower convoy,” Pete Stockel, innovation autonomy challenge lead for Dstl, said. “This could be a step-change in how operational risk might be managed, costs could be reduced and – ultimately – lives can be saved, as a result of harnessing this rapidly-evolving technology.”

Driverless military truck convoys have been tested in the U.S. on a number of occasions, most recently in October when TARDEC took a four-vehicle convoy from Port Huron to Sarnia, Ontario and back across the Blue Water Bridge.

Quadcopter supply test

Among the unmanned aerial vehicles demonstrated was the U.K.-developed Malloy Aeronautics Hoverbike advanced prototype quadcopter drone, which the release said is capable of carrying more than 100kg of supplies, and is piloted using a tablet controller. This Hoverbike version may also be useful for humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions.

Called the Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply Vehicle by the U.S. military, the UAS was first demonstrated in January 2017, and has been developed collaboratively by Malloy Aeronautics, Survice, the U.S. Marine Corps, TARDEC and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL).

4×4 operated by Xbox controller

A remote-control Polaris MRZR 4×4 vehicle fitted with advanced sensors, cameras and GPS, was operated by a joint U.K.-U.S. team using an adapted Xbox game console controller. The vehicle was driven around a test area to simulate an off-road task.

Military use of Xbox controllers is not new. The U.S. Army’s High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator used an Xbox controller in 2014, and the U.S. Navy uses an Xbox 360 controller to operate periscopes on Virginia-class submarines.

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