The US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s (CCDC) Army Research Laboratory has funded off-road autonomy research under the Scalable, Adaptive and Resilient Autonomy (SARA) programme.

Under the programme that started earlier this year, the army has awarded eight academic and industry partners $2.9m as the first-year funding for the research.

Colorado School of Mines, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, GE Research, Indiana University, University of California, Berkeley, University of Delaware, University of Rochester, and the University of Washington are the first-year awardees.

The research will use insights from previous long-term projects, including the Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology Alliance and the Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance.

Research work will be executed in a series of technology sprints held yearly.

SARA programme manager Eric Spero said: “Robotic and autonomous systems need the ability to enter into an unfamiliar area, without the ability to communicate and for which there are no maps showing terrain or structures, make sense of the environment, and perform safely and effectively at the army’s operational tempo.

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“Technologies must be identified and further developed, integrated and assessed to achieve the envisioned capabilities in perception, learning, reasoning, communication and navigation of autonomous air and ground vehicles.”

The first technology sprint is in line with the lab’s Artificial Intelligence for Maneuver and Mobility Essential Research Programme. It will focus on developing and advancing off-road manoeuvre technologies.

Once developed, the research partners with the lab, will integrate the solutions onto testbed platforms and into the lab’s autonomous systems software repository.

Vehicle Technology Directorate chief scientist Dr Brett Piekarski said: “Current commercial autonomy solutions are limited by needed infrastructure, prior information, and structured environments.

“More research is needed to realise the freedom of manoeuvre necessary for military relevant autonomous operations.”