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JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – The U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative hosted the Future of Unmanned Ground Systems Webinar on August 18, 2020. It focused on observations and insights regarding Unmanned Ground System capability development and the future of these systems in the Operational Environment.

The three panelists consisted of Dr. Alexander Kott, U.S. Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory's Chief Scientist, Samuel Bendett, Research Analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses' International Affairs Group, where he is a member of the Russia Studies Program, and Melanie Rovery, Janes Defence Editor of Unmanned Ground Vehicles.

All countries are working on three major research areas to improve the effectiveness of robotic ground systems. These systems have been on the battlefield for 100 years but have not delivered a game changing capability. Compare this to the aircraft that from first flight to proof of concept only took 10 years to change the character of warfare.

These three research focus areas are: Mobility in complex terrain; requirement outpaces what current autonomous cars are capable of, communication in a contested electromagnetic spectrum, and the ability to collaborate and coordinate with humans in the loop.

Rovery began the webinar and focused on unmanned ground vehicles in the international landscape.

According to Rovery, "In 2019, Chinese armored units conducted high-altitude exercises with unmanned systems. The multi-day exercises used remotely operated mine-clearing robots to open routes, during surrounding fire. Images and data were transmitted back to the control center, and this information was then shared with UGVs and a swarm of quadcopters that conducted reconnaissance.”

In 2020, the U.S. Army conducted its first robotic combat vehicle experiment focusing on cavalry and scout missions.

Rovery highlighted the use of the THeMIS (Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System) over the past five years among various countries.

The UGV is designed to perform a wide range of military missions in dangerous or hard-to-reach areas. It offers enhanced safety and operational effectiveness by keeping warfighters at a safe distance from enemy attack.

The vehicle can be configured for different roles, including reconnaissance, observation, target acquisition, communications relay, logistics support platform, rescue, fire-fighting, and medical evacuation (medevac).

During various live military exercises, the UGV has been deployed by the British Army, U.S. Marines, the Royal Dutch Army, Latvian, and Estonian Defence Forces.

Bendett continued focusing on Russia and its long-term development of UGVs and its trials over the past couple of years in Syria and where Russia will go in the future.

According to Bendett, “Russia’s Syria experience — and monitoring the U.S. use of unmanned systems for the past two decades — convinced the Ministry of Defense (MOD) that its forces need more expanded unmanned combat capabilities to augment existing Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) systems that allowed Russian forces to observe the battlefield in real-time”.

The expanded use of artificial intelligence will be crucial to both the machines and humans on the battlefield.

“Another significant trend is the gradual shift from manual control over unmanned systems to a fully autonomous mode, perhaps powered by a limited artificial intelligence program. The Russian MOD has already communicated its desire to have unmanned military systems operate autonomously in a fast-paced and fast-changing combat environment,” said Bendett.

Kott finished the event by concentrating on the science that drives current and future ground robotics.

In a recent podcast, Kott sat down with The U.S. Army Mad Scientist Initiative and spoke about the importance of artificial intelligence.

“One of the flagship programs we have is about AI and machine learning for maneuver and mobility on the battlefield. We decided to focus on maneuver and mobility because it is so important for the future of combat vehicles and creates the foundation for many other aspects of AI,” said Kott.

Kott highlighted the challenges that CCDC-ARL is focused on. These challenges are ground mobility and maneuver, coordination and teaming, and communications.

Kott stated, "Going forward is directed by two phenomena. One is that everything becomes smart and acquires some degree of thinking ability, and the other is that everything becomes connected. This will continue to drive many developments in technology in industry and warfare."

Participants submitted questions to the panelists that expanded on some of the initial information while delving into other areas connected to the future of UGVs.

Previous Mad Scientist Initiative events have focused on future learning, bioengineering, disruptive technologies, megacities, and dense urban areas and identifying other opportunities for further assessment and experimentation.

More information about the Mad Scientist Initiative can be found at https://madsciblog.tradoc.army.mil/