Patterico's Pontifications

10/2/2007

The Military and Self-Driving Trucks

Filed under: General — DRJ @ 4:53 pm



[Guest post by DRJ]

According to this report, “Congress has mandated that one in three ground combat vehicles be self-driving by 2015″ in order to “free personnel for non-driving tasks such as reading maps, scanning for roadside bombs or scouting for the enemy – and to be able to deploy vehicles altogether unoccupied.”

The question is how? Oshkosh Truck has an answer.

Oshkosh’s TerraMax truck may be the truck-of-the-future for military deployments:

“Sitting high in the cab of the hulking lime-green TerraMax truck, a driver can be excused for instinctively grabbing the steering wheel. There is no need. TerraMax is a self-driving vehicle, a prototype designed to navigate and obey traffic rules – all while the people inside, if there are any, do anything but drive.

During a recent test on property owned by manufacturer Oshkosh Truck, TerraMax barrelled down a dusty road with its driver seat empty. It stopped at a four-way intersection and waited as staged traffic resolved before obediently lurching on its way.

If the US Defence Department gets its way, vehicles like TerraMax – about as long as a typical sport utility vehicle and almost twice as high – could represent the future of transportation for the military’s ground forces.”

Good news, although I guess that also makes Oshkosh the Caterpillar or Halliburton of the future. I hope Oshkosh has a good press relations department.

— DRJ

15 Responses to “The Military and Self-Driving Trucks”

  1. I believe that there have been cable channel programs like on History or Discovery of the DARPA programs testing autonomous vehicles. Interesting to watch.

    SPQR (6c18fd)

  2. The word “pork” comes to my mind. An answer to a question asked a friendly legislator by a manufacturer wanting a billion dollar contract. Just exactly why is a driver one person too many in a truck carrying 68 soldiers?

    nk (7d4710)

  3. “If the US Defence Department gets its way, vehicles like TerraMax – about as long as a typical sport utility vehicle and almost twice as high – could represent the future of transportation for the military’s ground forces.””

    So instead of roadside bombs, the enemy will stop us with roadside…signage?

    amarc (10527e)

  4. Ok, 68 should have been 6 to 8. Maybe I need a robot typer.

    nk (7d4710)

  5. Congressional mandates do not technology make. Although autonomous vehicles are improving, nobody is ready for prime time yet.

    DARPA Grand Challenge Overview

    EW1(SG) (84e813)

  6. The word “pork” comes to my mind. … Just exactly why is a driver one person too many in a truck carrying 6-8 soldiers?

    An autonomous vehicle can live through things that people can’t. They are also useful for missions that currently are performed by civilian contractors, like convoy duty which is still fairly risky in some areas.

    EW1(SG) (84e813)

  7. EW1(SG),

    Autonomous vehicles may not be ready for prime-time but they’re still pretty neat.

    DRJ (ec59b5)

  8. nk- you may be right about the pork, but think of it this way. No driver means no food for the driver, and no space for the driver. That means the space for the driver and the space the drivers food takes up can be used for ammunition, food and other things those 8 soldiers need. Could be a boondoggle, but Erickson had a twist a few arms to get the Navy to build the Monitor.
    I see it as another step in the “everybody fights” attitude from Starship Troopers.

    tyree (130453)

  9. The word “pork” comes to my mind.

    Not to belabor the point, but automated driving offers a number of advantages like better gas mileage and traffic control, i.e. an end to the dreaded accordion effect.

    As a former HMWVV driver, I can also attest to the mind-numbingly boring task of driving such vehicles (no radio, only rudimentary AC, etc.). An automated driver doesn’t daydream or fall asleep, the former being more relevant in accidents and the latter for extended combat ops where sleep may not be possible.

    All that said, I’ll admit that I’d have limited trust in such a system. I’m a former ground pounder, and stuff that works one way in the lab tends to not work or work in an entirely different way in the field. Color me open but decidedly cautious.

    socratesabroad (94cc94)

  10. Wow. I only have one question: How could you write a headline for this post that doesn’t include the pseudo-word “B’gosh”?

    Beldar (b3518e)

  11. DRJ says:

    Autonomous vehicles may not be ready for prime-time but they’re still pretty neat.

    Not quite yet, but they’re getting there. 😉

    As socratesabroad notes, fatigue is a huge factor that I forgot to mention. Military vehicles are a rough ride, whether it’s an aircraft, a submarine, or a truck so physical fatigue is unavoidable. And it can be a very deadly factor, even in routine operations where its a contributing factor to many accidents.

    And having spent the last decade or so making sure that stuff works at least as well in the field as it does in the lab, I’m not ready to trust ’em yet either.

    As to the “pork” factor, in the past the DARPA Grand Challenge has been unfunded (the entries are self financed so the money doesn’t come directly from the government). The object is to reduce the amount of time our soldiers spend on a low priority task and increase their focus on things that only they can do; and to reduce their exposure to risk.

    EW1(SG) (84e813)

  12. Beldar #10,

    That was an oversight.

    DRJ (ec59b5)

  13. SPQR, I’ve seen that on FutureWeapons (Discovery). The Squad Mission Support System RV and the Protector, in episode 9, season 2.

    LarryD (feb78b)

  14. I hope Oshkosh has a good press relations department.
    Oh c’mon, it’s built in. All they need to do is parade a few kids in Oshkosh farmer’s jeans and give out a “It’s for the Children b’gosh” and they’re golden.

    Veeshir (dfa2bf)

  15. > The word “pork” comes to my mind. … Just exactly why is a driver one person too many in a truck carrying 6-8 soldiers?

    The US military doesn’t use trucks to carry soldiers – at least not in areas where fighting is likely. They use Bradley APCs and Strykers for that.

    The point of the robot trucks is that they’ll be carrying cargo in convoys. So instead of a 40 truck convoy with 40 drivers (and 10 or so MP as security) you’ll have maybe 5-10 drivers (and the 10 or so MPs) putting 30-35 less people at risk.

    In dangerous places like Iraq civilian truck drivers (from the US) are pulling in over $100,000 a year so replacing them with robots can save some money. Yes, robot trucks are expensive. So are regular trucks. So is medical care for wounded truck drivers. And, over time, you’d expect the cost difference of the robot trucks vs. regular trucks to decrease.

    Arthur (b76f4a)


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