JULY 2023 | TECHNOLOGY REPORT | UGVs
Commonality across a family of systems means operators can more rapidly switch from one vehicle or mission to another, with ease of use a vital element of UGV design.
Above: Teledyne FLIR’s Centaur UGV, selected as the US Army’s Man Transportable Robotic System Increment II, is designed to support remote monitoring, debris removal, route clearance, casualty evacuation, inspection and surveillance/reconnaissance. (Photo: Teledyne FLIR)
As ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ technologies, autonomy and robotics are set to play a critical role in future warfare, which is why armed forces are exploring the employment of uncrewed ground vehicles (UGVs).
One concept being considered is the autonomous deployment of UGVs from larger ‘mothership’ host platforms – an idea initially considered as part of the US Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle-Medium (RCV-Medium) effort.
Speaking to Shephard, the US Army said the deployment of smaller UGVs from RCV was not currently listed as a priority for the programme.
‘The RCV HMI [human-machine integration] campaign of learning has not experimented with this [mothership] concept and currently does not have a requirement to develop this capability,’ an army spokesperson confirmed.
However, they did describe how the RCV will be ‘designed to be modular and could support a variety of payloads in the future based on army priorities and mission requirements’.
Control or autonomy?
With a background of designing innovative technologies to optimise the perception and awareness of end-users in the most austere and remote areas of the world, Teledyne FLIR specialises in provision of autonomous platforms, common controllers and sensors, many of which are well suited to supporting a system of-systems approach.
These technologies not only maximise the chance of mission success but also ensure the survivability of personnel at the tactical edge, particularly in the face of well-equipped and highly capable peer adversaries.
Systems are also designed to reduce cognitive and training burdens on warfighters already required to operate in particularly complex operating environments.
Indeed, Teledyne FLIR was originally planning to deploy its SUGV platform by ramp from the Ripsaw M5 RCV-Medium, although this concept was later discontinued for undisclosed reasons, industry sources revealed.
The company’s family of solutions includes UGVs and command and control (C2) systems, as well as specialist sensor payloads.
Teledyne FLIR’s SUGV for example is designed to support both mounted and dismounted explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams.
With an all-up weight of 13kg, the SUGV has a manipulator arm capable of lifting loads up to 10kg in weight. It is equipped with four colour cameras with zoom and illumination features, and has the option to carry an additional thermal imaging (TI) camera for low-light conditions.
SUGV’s stablemate FirstLook is a ‘throwable, rugged and expandable robot’ designed to provide an organic reconnaissance capability for small unit teams.
FirstLook allows operators to stand off from a target and also uses four colour cameras for situational awareness (SA).
FirstLook’s small form factor is optimised to facilitate reconnaissance missions in dense urban environments, including inside buildings where it has the ability to overcome obstacles up to 18cm in height. Weighing in at 3kg, the UGV is also capable of self-righting should it be ‘flipped’.
Above: The 3kg FirstLook UGV can enter constricted space and is capable of self-righting if flipped over. (Photo: Teledyne FLIR)
The PackBot 525 meanwhile is equipped with HD cameras, improved illumination and a laser rangefinder to support applications including EOD, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The UGV is also optimised for detection and handling of CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) and other hazardous materials. It has the capacity to lift loads of up to 20kg, which can then be removed or stowed in a third party vehicle for example.
The UGV features a series of attachment points for additional integration of sensors and tools, providing increased levels of mission flexibility for end-users.
Teledyne FLIR’s PackBot 510 is another human-transportable UGV designed to support EOD, surveillance/reconnaissance and CBRN missions.
The 510 has been designed to climb stairs and navigate narrow passageways and share video and audio feeds in real time to operators located at a tactical distance away from a threat.
Similar to the 525, the 510 has capacity to lift up to 20kg and can be deployed by a single operator in less than two minutes. The UGV is equipped with four colour cameras and illuminator, with a zoom capability plus an option for a fifth TI camera.
Teledyne FLIR’s Centaur UGV, selected as the US Army’s Man Transportable Robotic System Increment II (MTRS Inc II), is designed to support remote monitoring, debris removal, route clearance, casualty evacuation, inspection and surveillance/reconnaissance tasks.
The UGV allows operators to stand off from threats to detect, confirm and identify hazards including land mines, unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices. The platform is fitted with a pan-tilt-zoom electro-optical/infrared camera as well as manipulator arm capable of reaching up to 190cm. The Centaur has the capacity to climb obstacles up to 15cm in height, including stairwells.
Finally, Teledyne FLIR’s Kobra 725 is suited to accessing rough terrain and lifting heavy loads. Capable of lifting up to 150kg, the UGV is capable of supporting EOD and CBRN operations in addition to explosive method of entry.
The Interoperability Profile-compliant system is also well positioned to support future payload developments as technology emerges. The UGV features multiple colour cameras with zoom and illumination capability.
Any of the UGVs in Teledyne FLIR’s inventory can be controlled by the company’s uPoint Multi-Robot Controller.
Available in a rugged touchscreen configuration or with optional hand controls, the device allows a soldier to tele-operate a single UGV or swarm of systems. It also enables them to select appropriate mapping, pre-set UGV poses and manipulate sensors.
Teledyne FLIR also continues to upgrade its fleet of UGVs with emerging sensors and accessories to open up news use cases for its family of systems.
Solutions include the MUVE R430 radiation detector which was initially designed to be carried on board the SkyRanger R70 UAV but is now available for ground vehicles. The payload provides operators with visible and audible alerts to expedite rapid response drills.
Similarly, the company’s MUVE B330 Continuous Biological Detector and Collector, initially designed to be carried by R70 or SkyRaider R80 UAS, is also available for UGVs.
The payload provides real-time and continuous monitoring of biological threats, even when on the move, allowing forward-deployed teams to identify these as early as possible.
‘Both applications could be highly advantageous in a situation such as Ukraine where robots could assess any radiological or biological releases that might occur,’ a Teledyne FLIR spokesperson explained. ‘We are also working with our Teledyne sister companies to explore additional payload applications which could include LiDAR,’ it was added.