Robotics in YPG future
Mankind has been involved in armed conflict since well before the dawn of civilization, a situation that promises to continue long into the future. There have been thousands of technological improvements in warfare over the centuries, but mankind is currently in the early stages of one that has typically existed only on the pages of science fiction: robots.
Robots of various sizes meant to accomplish many missions are actively studied today by nations around the world, including the United States. Some robots are meant to fly, while others operate on sea or land. Some robotic vehicles are already in use by American forces, such as remotely-operated tracked vehicles that dismantle explosives, unmanned aircraft and small robots that can be tossed over walls and maneuver into areas troops cannot see. These small robots are controlled by and transmit images to soldiers a safe distance away.
The first robot vehicles were developed as far back as World War II. German forces deployed the diminutive Goliath tank that operated by control cables and carried explosives to destroy fortifications or armored vehicles. The Russian army developed the “teletank,” an armored vehicle that operated by radio transmission. Both were expensive and unreliable.
We are now in a highly technical age, however, with the idea of autonomous robots well within our range of knowledge. And U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground is one of the locations at which robotics are tested, a mission area that promises to grow significantly.
Two premier robotic researchers, Dr. Devendra Garg from Duke University and Dr. Manish Kumar from the University of Cincinnati, visited YPG late last month to see test facilities for themselves and discuss the future.
“YPG is one of the largest test facilities in the world and we've heard great things about it,” said Garg as his day at the proving ground began. “We are designing systems of multiple robots working together. The idea is to develop robots for use on the battlefield to take soldiers out of harm's way.”
Garg pointed out that the natural world contains excellent examples of data gathering and communication systems that work well in coordinating large scale activities. Bees, for instance, live in huge colonies and communicate to each other by dancing. Ants communicate by use of pheromones.
“Nature includes excellent design systems from which we can learn,” Garg said.
Testing the robotics of the future is a significant challenge, for as “autonomous” systems able to make individual decisions and react to data, test technologies must be accurate, reliable and repeatable.
Mike Davis, director of YPG's Network Enterprise Center, who deals daily in technological matters, says the visit was both informative and stimulating.
“Robotics is becoming more and more a part of everyday life,” he said. “But keep in mind that robots and computers perform only tasks we program them to do. With increasing numbers of systems talking to one another amid complex environments, it's truly complicated.”
Davis says trends show increasing interest in unmanned systems. “The challenge for testers at YPG is to figure out ways to fully test and accommodate these systems.”
Science, technology, electronics and mathematics education will become increasingly important in future years to ensure YPG and the nation has a domestic workforce capable of handling the coming test workload.
“Using robotics, the things that can be accomplished are limitless, almost anything your imagination can come up with,” said Davis. “I encourage young people to educate themselves and develop the proper skills.”
Chuck Wullenjohn is the public affairs officer for Yuma Proving Ground. He can be reached at 328-6189 or email@example.com.