Editor's Note: This is part one in a three-part story series about Olli, a level-four autonomous vehicle that will conduct phase one data collection on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
Throughout history the Department of Defense has been at the forefront of innovation. To ensure DOD remains at the forefront, Marine Corps Installation Command and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall were selected as the winner of the National Capital Region Local Motors Ollie Fleet Challenge in April.
Although some might believe this is new technology, it's not. The technology for autonomous vehicles isn't new, said David Woessner, the vice president of corporate development and regulatory affairs with Local Motors. He added that there are different ways to think about autonomous vehicles. The current focus on autonomous vehicles really started more than a decade ago when Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency issued various challenges to technologists and research institutions to come up with vehicles that can drive themselves, he said. Some of this effort can be directly tied to work that DARP was doing in 2005, 2006 and 2007. There are five levels of autonomous vehicles and the vehicle that will be on JBM-HH will be a level-four vehicle.
"Level zero is defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, (which means) no automation," explained Woessner. "Levels one and two (are) driver-assistance systems, which (means) you may have adaptive cruise control, lane change warnings (or) lane change alignment. When you (have) level three (that is) an ability of the vehicle to do certain operations on its own but it still needs human monitoring. Level four the vehicle … can dynamically respond to its environment and only really requires human interference or interaction in case of emergency or certain conditions. Level five means it's fully automated in all conditions and can perform without human intervention.
"From a deployment perspective there (are) different things. What we are going to do in phase one at the base is more self-driving vehicle rather than autonomous. Autonomous means you can interact with your environment and make all kinds of decisions like a human driver would. For example, if a vehicle is parked like a garbage collection vehicle or waste management is parked in the middle of the street or a school bus is parked in the middle of the street, we as human drivers can assess whether it's safe to go around that vehicle. A self-driving vehicle may not go around the vehicle because it has in its algorithm a defined route, and a defined area it's allowed to operate that vehicle is parked in such a way it can't go around it, therefore it will sit there."
Woessner added that's not autonomous because it's on a fixed route in a geofenced area with certain rules and regulations that it follows. If the vehicle can't follow those rules or regulations, then it basically just stops.
"In the first phase at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall we are going to pretty much operate a (level four) vehicle on a fixed route with certain stops," he said. "If certain things happen if a waste management vehicle is parked in the middle of the road Olli would probably not go around the vehicle to veer into the opposite lane even if it's deemed by a human to be safe to do so because the rules would say 'hey, you are only allowed to be in this lane you are not allowed to cross the double yellow line.' There are all kinds of nuances between self-driving vehicles, driver-assisted technology as well as full-autonomous vehicles."
Since phase one will be data collecting, Jim Allen, a research and development lead from Engineer and Research and Development Center, said the project is really a demonstration pilot of innovative autonomous vehicle technology at an Army installation.
"We want to observe the deployment of the vehicle in order to better understand and explore how the Army can leverage that technology to improve Soldiers and Families lives to save money and to enhance mission readiness," said Allen.
Some individuals might have concerns about outsiders having the ability to hack into Olli since it's a level-four vehicle, but Allen said Olli is safe because one of the areas of research is cyber security.
"We are looking at data and cyber security, we are looking at data analytics and capturing all of this data and what else can be done with this data," Allen said. "With this specific vehicle that Local Motors and Robotics Research are partnering … starting from a baseline of a very secure vehicle," explained Allen. "I say that with confidence because Robotics Research has been doing (level-four) vehicle development with the military for 15 years.
"They have experience with a previous program with the Tank and Automotive Development Research Center for more of combat scenarios of controlling vehicles. It's kind of built on (the) platform that was built to run autonomously and kind of in isolation in a very secure environment."
Installation werX, a team within MCICOM, is co-sponsoring level-four vehicle shuttle abroad JBM-HH, according to a MCICOM press release.
MCICOM, which has 24 installations around the world, is based in the Pentagon and it has a program called Installation werX. I-werX reimages the futures of Marine installations with nine vector areas of priority categories. One of those areas is protection of a vision in a digital fortress.
"For mobility we have objectives of multimobile opportunities for the movement of people and goods in and around bases," explained Marine Lt. Col. Brandon Newell of MCICOM. "So, that means whether a Marine or Soldier is moving for work purposes or personal purposes, or whether a part or package is being delivered for work or personal reasons, there are multiple options for how that gets to where it needs to go.
"We look for opportunities for that future. We have been looking at autonomous vehicles for a while the Olli challenge in (Washington), D.C., was a target of opportunity to move forward with an autonomous shuttle on an installation. We knew Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall had interest in that through our relationship in the past and we reached out to the assistant secretary of the Army of energy, installation and environment to see if they would be interested in partnering, which they did."
Newell pointed out that's what brought in the ERDEC lab to partner and use this opportunity to shadow the set up and deployment of a level-four shuttle.
"As we prepare for the future of doing this on other bases … and shadowing industry on how they do this is instrumental to the future of autonomous vehicles on installations throughout DOD," he said.
One of the first steps of the research is mapping on JBM-HH because the research won't rely on a live feed for information, said Allen. After collecting data from phase one, there is a possibility for phases two and three.