Army Leverages Private Industry, Academia to Advance Robotics Research

April 20, 2010

Developing smart robots with the ability to work for and alongside Soldiers is the ultimate goal of the Army's $63.2 million investment in a new robotics cooperative agreement with industry and academia over the next five years.

The Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance is expected to push the research needed to make autonomous robots accomplish more missions and take some of the burden off Soldiers on the battlefield, said ARL's Jon Bornstein, chief of the Robotics Autonomous Systems Division and CTA manager.

The CTA will also have a potential five-year extension with an additional $66.5 million investment, totaling a possible $129.7 million.

"I would like to see the CTA research demonstrate an unmanned system that can adapt to a dynamic environment and learn from its experiences," said Bornstein. "I'm really looking forward to this research moving unmanned systems as a tool for the Soldier."

Bornstein said he compares his vision of the future use of robots in the Army with the way warfighters work with dogs in K-9 units.

"They're part of the team, and we want these unmanned systems to be part of team. There must be an intuitive bond between the Soldier and robot - a trust ... and a certain level of compatibility to develop that capability," he said.

Through the agreement, ARL will be working with a consortium of leading research organizations to break through basic scientific barriers in perception, intelligence, human-robot interaction, dexterous manipulation and unique mobility.

"Developing technology in these critical areas is crucial to the advancement of future unmanned systems possessing a significant level of autonomy," said Bornstein. "Robots can't be dumb. They must be able to work on their own."

While the Army drives the research direction, it chose a consortium of eight organizations, led by General Dynamics Robotic Systems, to perform under the cooperative agreement.

Boston Dynamics, Carnegie-Mellon University, California Institute of Technology Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Florida A&M University, QinetiQ North America, the University of Central Florida, and the University of Pennsylvania will all work as partners to delve into the cutting-edge research.

ARL uses cooperative agreements to bring together consortiums that develop and execute research plans that share financial, intellectual, personnel and infrastructure resources from both the government and private sector, and the new agreement is the third robotics-centered CTA the laboratory has leveraged.

Bornstein managed a previous eight and a half years of CTA robotics research. The original CTA focused on command and control of robotics while the newly announced agreement is reaching into intelligence, learning and robotic-human interaction.

"We accomplished a significant amount of research in our previous CTA," said Bornstein. "We see (that research) filtering into the Army's autonomous systems now."

The Micro Autonomous System Technologies CTA was the second ARL alliance, which focuses on small, hand-held robotics research.

The broader robotics-research picture falls under the auspices of the laboratory's enterprise that focuses on four key areas; perception, intelligence, human-robot interaction and manipulation and mobility.

"This robotics CTA will be a key part of ARL's Autonomous Systems Enterprise that combines ARL's internal research efforts with external research," said Bornstein.


Last Update / Reviewed: April 20, 2010