“Many Ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” -U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
A U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC), Aberdeen Test Center (ATC) Director recently had an opportunity to present an overview brief of ATEC’s mission and its efforts to adapt its current test and evaluation framework to support autonomous systems and robotics in future multi domain operations at a Military Robotics and Autonomous Systems Conference that was held in Arlington, Virginia June 20-21.
Camille Houston, the Director of ATC’s Virtual Test and Advanced Electronics Directorate participated in the two-day event that was held recently to an assembled group of military and defense professionals from around the globe. “Having an opportunity to discuss these autonomous systems and programs with our defense industry representatives and several of our allied nations who also presented at the conference was very helpful for me to see how and when the technologies would be integrated into their force structures to offset vulnerabilities, sustain operations and increase protection,” she said after her own presentation on the second day of the conference.
One of the major efforts that Houston briefed to the assembled group was the efforts that ATEC was doing to recruit the personnel who are at the forefront of robotics and autonomous software research while retaining and keeping its current workforce trained with the newest technology. “We have personnel who have decades of experience in testing and evaluation. Pairing them with the younger engineers who are joining us through our recruitment efforts, while embracing the newest technology and processes being developed is powerful,” she added.
Houston also addressed how ATEC’s test centers are modernizing their data collection and data transfer technology across the command, “we used to talk about how many megabytes of data could be transferred or transmitted during tests and as technology has increased, we’ve moved to terabytes of data currently being collected from each test,” Houston said during the presentation. “Eventually we may even see petabytes (the next higher level) of data being delivered with each test for evaluation and analysis.
“With that, ATEC and ATC is actively working with our partners to make that data more accessible with secure data storage within the Cloud so that the information can be shared and developed in a more collaborative approach.”
Houston then addressed how Autonomous Systems testing has been going on at ATEC for many years and how over the years, the software and hardware test tools being used at the test centers are constantly evolving as technology improves. Houston told the assembled group, “ATC is finishing development of an Autonomous Systems Test Capability lab to test ground-based software in a digital environment long before the software is loaded onto an actual autonomous vehicle. This will allows us to move our testing of the ground-based autonomous systems forward in the test cycle, long before the vehicle gets tested on the physical ranges.”
“Using the virtual environments will allow us to test the software in simulated weather, on varying terrains and with challenging obstacles to assess system performance. The capability will also allow us to test the software in degraded states to ensure that the autonomous software is robust enough to safely operate. Using the virtual environments ultimately allow us to test at a faster pace since the capability isn’t dependent on a physical vehicles or test ranges.”
Houston than told the group that ATEC has additional digital test capabilities in the works such as the Redstone Test Center Approach to Persistent Integrated Developmental Testing (RAPID) where its Distributive Test Control Center is used to link several modeling and simulation and integration labs together. RAPID will also utilize Model Based System Engineering tools to better align with the digital engineering efforts of ATEC’s aviation customers.
At the conclusion of the briefing, one of the questions from one of the participants was how ATEC planned to address the constant software drops that would be required to keep Autonomous Systems current over time and Houston replied that it would be similar to other computer systems getting updates and patches, Autonomous Systems would gain patches and undergo testing so the software would be updated and adapted over the operational life of the actual system.
“The ATEC Briefing was very helpful in informing us how the U.S. Army is working to ensure its efforts in testing and experimenting on Autonomous Systems and Robotics is at the forefront of this new science,” said Richard Hansen, chairperson of SAE Media Group and host of the Military Robotics and Autonomous Systems conference. “We hope to continue these types of discussions in the future as the technology continues to evolve.”
When asked about her experience representing ATEC at the conference, Houston said “I really enjoyed the opportunity to attend the conference this week and meet with many of our research partners and learning how we can work together in the future to integrate and advance our autonomous systems and robotic capabilities.”