Army robotics expert urges industry to get involved with unmanned enabling technologies development

Aug. 20, 2019
Cyber security and stealth will be central components of military unmanned vehicles of the future -- particularly as unmanned vehicles are networked.

WASHINGTON – Items on the U.S. Army's wish list for unmanned vehicles and robotics include common controllers and modular mission payloads, and the Army needs industry's help in developing enabling technologies in these areas over the next several years.

That's the message from Helen Greiner, highly qualified expert (HQE) for robotics, autonomous systems, and artificial intelligence (AI) in the office of the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics, and technology in the Pentagon.

Greiner made her comments Tuesday at the at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Defense, Protection, and Security conference in Washington.

Still, designing common unmanned systems controllers and common mission payloads that are suitable for tomorrow's U.S. military applications is not as simple as it sounds.

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Greiner points out that cyber security and stealth will be central components of military unmanned vehicles of the future -- particularly as unmanned vehicles become parts of tactical networks.

Radar and light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors, moreover, might not be appropriate, because active transmissions of those technologies could be detected, and could give away the unmanned vehicle's presence to an adversary.

On-board computers and data links will be enemy targets of cyber attacks more than ever before. Unmanned vehicles systems integrators, therefore, must place a big emphasis on new kinds of machine autonomy to help overcome enemy attacks on vehicle sensors and data links.

Unmanned systems designers also must emphasize passive onboard sensors to maintain stealth and an enemy's attempts to detect and defeat their eyes and ears.

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One of Greiner's primary jobs with the Army is to identify some of the most promising enabling technologies for future military unmanned vehicles applications. In addition to stealth, cyber security, common controllers, and modular payloads, Greiner says future unmanned systems must give more priority to drive-by-wire technology, rather than mechanical control surfaces, for tasks like steering, parking, and braking.

Greiner is uniquely qualified for her job with the Army. She's a co-founder of well-known robotics firm iRobot in Bedford, Mass., which designs small unmanned land vehicles for applications as diverse as military bomb detection and disposal, and civil automatic vacuum cleaners and pool sweepers.

She also founded CyPhy Works in Danvers, Mass., now Aria Insights, which produces the Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications platform (PARC) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology that provides stable, secure, autonomous flight.

For industry work with the U.S. military, Greiner doesn't mince words about the key to success. "If you are not fielding, you are failing," she told AUVSI attendees. It's important for prospective contractors who are interested in working with the military to find some sort of funding to move forward, and points out that becoming part of military programs of record isn't the only way.

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She advises technology companies to learn about and join industry and government consortia with specific aims in unmanned and robotic systems enabling technologies. "There is money flowing into these consortia for competitive bid," she told attendees.

Additional ways for companies to find funding and participate in U.S. military unmanned vehicle technology development exist, as well, including:

-- Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants;

-- open broad-agency announcements (BAAs);

-- Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) innovation days;

-- rapid innovation funds;

-- cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) opportunities;

-- U.S. Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA) research initiatives; and

-- unsolicited white papers.

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

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