Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were the spearhead that opened the way for UGVs robotics technology to be tested, combat-proven and ultimately adopted by many countries worldwide. They offered the necessary learning curve for engineers to develop the range of systems and technologies included in them.
Listed below are the key technology trends impacting the unmanned ground vehicles theme, as identified by GlobalData.
Unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) must have sufficient power resources to operate effectively and run their sensors and subsystems for prolonged periods of time, while also powering the electronic devices carried by soldiers. The majority of the systems run on batteries or hybrid electric engines, and large ones on internal combustion engines. Batteries or hybrid electric systems are the best option where UGVs are used to provide additional autonomy to ground troops.
UGVs, especially micro, mini and small ones, have limited space available, which also has to accommodate a variety of sensors such as a day camera, Infra-Red (IR) camera, a GPS, telecommunications, navigation and steering systems, etc. The batteries market, a niche one indeed, invests in R&D for lighter and denser products, energy harvesting systems, as well as in technologies that will overcome the disadvantages of lithium batteries.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI will inevitably be leading the way with future soldier modernisation, by creating more accurate algorithms that enable a computational device to learn as it processes information, such as facial recognition, which would be used to determine civilians from a possible enemy. With the rise of robotics in UGVs, AI will play a vital part in C2 processes such as firing orders and Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T).
The concept of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is the development of “swarms”. That is, the combination of multiple unmanned systems, of the same or different type, to execute a mission in order to overwhelm enemy defences.
Unmanned systems, not only ground but maritime and aerial too, are extremely beneficial in allowing ground troops to have better real-time ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance). Such sensors can operate on a numerous platforms at an affordable price compared to manned systems.
Also, as mentioned already, MUM-T operations will soon become a fact, whether to support logistics or engage in combat operations to remove soldiers from harm’s way
Telecommunications play a key role for all of these systems to operate effectively, without disruptions, and in heavily contested environments. Moreover, satellite communications are important for the operation of long-range UAVs and UMVs. Ground vehicles, as the rest of the unmanned systems, have to communicate effectively despite the presence of natural obstacles (e.g. mountains, forests or the curvature of the Earth).
Platform agnostic software and C2 stations
The development of a large variety of unmanned systems resulted in an equally large variety of C2 stations and software. To increase commonality and establish swarm capabilities, the development of such C2 stations will further enhance their adoption and integration into operations, thus increasing their market size.
Manned-unmanned teaming (MUMT)
MUM-T is closely related to the developments in AI, in order to allow manned and unmanned systems to operate together in operations. They would act as force multipliers, overwhelming enemy defences, similarly to swarms.
3D printing (or additive manufacturing) will speed up production and reduce maintenance costs, as well as on-the-field support of unmanned systems. Such procedures are already being used by the US Armed Forces, albeit to a limited extent.
The sensors available from the respective market segment can increase the capabilities of robotics, either in terms of sensors’ performance or the overall capabilities of unmanned systems in areas such as endurance, weight-payload carried, fuel consumption etc.
Miniaturisation is a key aspect for the development of unmanned systems and robotics with improved capabilities in terms of performance (speed, load carriage, range). SWaP (Size, Weight and Power) is an area where all the industries invest in and they will continue to do so in the long-run.
Light detection and ranging (LiDAR)
Lidar technology is the standard anti-collision system for autonomous vehicles. Increasingly, it is being used in robotics. However, lidar sensors are both bulky and expensive. Silicon photonics technology – where data is transferred among computer chips by lasers rather than electrical conductors – can reduce the cost of lidar systems. In 2016, MIT researchers were able to fit a lidar sensor on a chip the size of a dime.
Velodyne is currently the dominant force in lidar. Start-up Quanergy and Tier-1 parts supplier Continental, among others, are working on solid state lidar sensors, while Toyota has turned to another start-up, Luminar, for its object detection device. Some players, such as Tesla, insist that LiDAR will never become commercially viable and are instead banking on 3D cameras, ultrasound and AI.
Although much in robotics will be done from the control centre, security and latency issues with autonomous vehicles, other drones, and certain categories of industrial and service robots mean that many of these robots will have to be able to process real-time data about their operational environments and respond immediately.
One of the major challenges for the widespread implementation of robots is the threat of cyberattacks. Robots, especially those that are internet-connected, are highly vulnerable to hacking and leaving them unprotected may allow unauthorised access to key applications and systems, which in turn may lead to loss, theft, destruction, or inappropriate use of sensitive information. Hacker groups can even gain control of robots and compromise robotic functions.
This is an edited extract from the Unmanned Ground Vehicles (Defense) – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.