WEST POINT, N.Y. (June 22, 2016) - Recent United States Military Academy at West Point graduates and now second lieutenants Keith Schneider, John Tazioli, Ed Woodruff, John Hansing, Alissah Mcgill and John Oberholtzer demonstrated their capstone project, an autonomous robot vehicle, June 1 at Daly Field.

The demonstration was two days before they drove to Michigan to enter the project into a competition.

The lieutenants continued to adjust the project to be ready to enter a major competition, the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition, hosted by Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. The competition is also sponsored by the U. S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC.

"The goal of our robot is to follow within white lines that act as a lane for it and avoid obstacles that are placed on the course and navigate around different color flags depending on whether or not they are red or blue," Schneider said. "We did demonstrate it during Projects Day and are currently streamlining it to make it faster and more competitive for the competition."

The autonomous robot vehicle has gone through various iterations throughout the years, beginning in 2013 as a project called "Black Knight Rising," which was also submitted to the competition and submitted again in 2015 under the name of "IGGY."

The vehicle uses LIDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging system, a remote-sensing device that uses lasers to measure and map the distance of the targets as well as the characteristics of obstacles in its path. Laser light illuminates objects and the analyses of that light yields a high resolution digital map.

"The vehicle is like the Google car," Maj. Dominic Larkin, assistant professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, said. "We are trying to develop self-driving vehicles so they can be used for logistics as supply trains. You can have a convoy of self-driving vehicles following behind one manned vehicle. It frees the Soldier to provide security."

In 2014, the Army demonstrated driverless vehicles at the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site in South Carolina. A convoy of seven different unmanned tactical vehicles were rolling at speeds over 40 miles per hour.

There are two different types of kits developed for autonomous vehicles so far that can be used as tactical vehicles in the Army. The first kit, or autonomy kit, uses sensors that virtually become the eyes and ears of the robot, such as the LIDAR system. A second kit is the 'by-wire-drive,' which operates the basic driving functions of the robot such as acceleration, braking and steering.

In either case, TARDEC is working with the Army Capabilities Integration Center, TRADOC Centers of Excellence, Industry, the academic community and Detroit to look into the future, expand technologies and integrate them into operational relevance to the warfighter.

One project may be using driverless vehicles on weapons platforms like the Abrams Tank and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle or Stryker. The unmanned vehicles could perform screening operations to manned vehicles and provide some protection to the flank.

Cadets working on capstone projects are often sponsored by industry and the Department of Defense with a few projects receiving patents for projects displayed during Projects Day or class projects.