ASI Researchers Solving the Information Problem

Related topics: Research
One of the most challenging dilemmas faced by military and law enforcement personnel is being forced to make decisive choices that affect lives based on incomplete information. In a perfect world, soldiers and officers would have access to every bit of information about a situation allowing them to make informed decisions.

Unfortunately, bomb threats, IEDs, standoffs, search and rescue, disaster recovery, and other dangerous events are often highlighted by their unpredictability and lack of critical details. Both military and law enforcement personnel are highly trained to handle these situations, but that's not to say that more data is not valuable.

For the past several months, the research and development team at Autonomous Solutions, Inc.—along with Think-a-Move Ltd.—has been working on a TARDEC-funded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project that is directed at solving the information problem.

Once completed, the software and technology from the project will enable military and law enforcement robots to gather data autonomously in all types of terrain and with very little operator intervention. The operator identifies a location for the robot to travel to, and the robot uses a series of sensors and software algorithms to not only navigate to the end point but also to identify and avoid obstacles in the way.

Armed with this technology, soldiers can send a robot to safely inspect an area on its own without using a distracting joystick and video mount.

"Right now we're working with a proof of concept in flat, indoor spaces, which is not all that different from what other people have done in the past," said Joel Alberts, one of the ASI roboticists working on the project. "But once we identify the algorithms we plan to scale them to broader dimensions such as rolling and pitching outdoor terrain. This is where we expect the most interest."

Prototypes of the voice activated technology have already been field tested by soldiers using a wrist-worn display.

Robots leverage a combination of vision based sensors, IMU encoders, and GPS guidance to identify a location based on a voice command and navigate across distances up to 100-200 yards with infrequent updates from the operator. The autonomous system will also be suitable for indoor, jamming, or GPS denied environments.

"We're ultimately looking to have this technology in the hands of a soldier who can send a robot on a mission and then either remain alert or do other tasks while the robot accomplishes the assigned task," said Jeff Ferrin, Vision and Controls Engineer at ASI.

The technology is expected to become available by mid-year 2014.