U.S. Army Convoys Could be Made Safer by Autonomous Vehicle Technology

New research performed at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, shows that it is possible to make U.S. Army convoys safer for soldiers by applying autonomous vehicle technology to minimize the number of service members required to run the vehicles.

The Army is interested in autonomous technology because if they can reduce the number of soldiers needed to run a convoy, they can keep soldiers safe.

Shawn McKay, Study Lead Author and Senior Engineer, RAND Corporation

McKay and his team investigated three different concepts for autonomous vehicles. The first one is the concept of fully autonomous employment, in which all the vehicles are unmanned. The second concept is the partially unmanned employment, which involves a lead truck with soldiers, followed by unmanned vehicles in a convoy.

The third concept is minimally manned, which is a “bridging” concept that features a soldier in the driver’s seat of each of the trucks in a convoy, to monitor the driving environment and the automated system.

When compared to existing practices, in a minimally manned Army convoy, 28% fewer soldiers were put to risk. In a fully autonomous convoy, 78% fewer soldiers would be put to risk, and in a partially unmanned convoy, 37% fewer soldiers would be at risk.

The technology for a completely autonomous Army convoy has not yet been developed. According to McKay, for the Army, part of the challenge is the limited nature of existing automated technology, which has principally been tested in environments with well-manicured infrastructure, such as those with standardized signs and road markings.

We’re looking at a combat environment—it’s very complex. An Army convoy could be operating in a Third World environment where road markings and road conditions are very poor, there’s open terrain, there’s herds of animals, and you’re under combat situations.

Shawn McKay, Study Lead Author and Senior Engineer, RAND Corporation

McKay continued, “With current technology, human ‘operators’ are still required to monitor the driving environment and regain control when the autonomous systems are unable to handle the situation.”

When you have a convoy of several vehicles driving autonomously and one halts due to an obstacle the autonomous system cannot handle, you have a situation where the convoy becomes vulnerable. The bridging concept mitigates this risk while still reducing soldier risk.

Shawn McKay, Study Lead Author and Senior Engineer, RAND Corporation

For many more years to come, partially unmanned technology will not be viable for highway driving. However, at present, minimally manned technology is readily available for Army adaptation and deployment in highway and urban environments, McKay added.

The study advocates the use of minimally manned concept by the Army as an essential bridging approach to realize the partially unmanned capability. Moreover, the Army should establish clear and practical technical requirements to minimize main development risks, for example, from cyberattack.

There might be pressure on the Army to utilize automated trucks to minimize the number of soldiers at risk, before the Army works out all the challenges associated with these systems. Therefore, the Army will have to prepare precise evaluations of system readiness and the risks related to the implementation before the Army is ready.

Matthew E. Boyer, Nahom M. Beyene, Michael Lerario, Matthew W. Lewis, Karlyn Stanley, Randall Steeb, Bradley Wilson, and Katheryn Giglio are the other authors of the study titled “Automating Army Convoys: Technical and Tactical Risks and Opportunities.”

Research for the project was performed within RAND Arroyo Center’s Forces and Logistics program. RAND Arroyo Center, part of the RAND Corporation, is a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the U.S. Army.

Source: https://www.rand.org/

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