By Debbie Gregory.
In a move aimed at reducing combat-wounded soldiers missing their doctor’s appointments due to heavy traffic and lack of parking close to on-base hospitals, the Army is venturing into the realm of driverless vehicles.
By 2018, the Army plans to have autonomous vehicles, beginning with a modified version of a Cushman Shuttle golf cart, on the road transporting wounded soldiers to the hospital for rehab.
“Some of these appointments can cost $5,000. So, if the soldier is not showing up, that’s a huge cost,” said Edward Straub, program manager for the Army’s Applied Robotics for Installations and Base operations.
The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center has rolled out a three-phase pilot program at Fort Bragg, South Carolina, and several other locations.
The first of three phases of the pilot program is already underway, with drivers steering the vehicles along their designated routes. The vehicles operate at low speeds in controlled areas.
Phase two, which is tentatively set to begin this fall, should see the vehicle driving itself, but with an operator in the front seat, just in case the vehicle should malfunction in any way.
If all goes according to plan, these vehicles will operate independently by 2018, allowing soldiers to schedule personalized door-to-door transports from their barracks to the hospital.
These advances go hand-in-hand with the Army’s future plans to use driverless combat vehicles to transport supplies and soldiers. This new technology is capable of making almost every military vehicle an optionally-manned vehicle.
While autonomous vehicle convoys made up of troop-carrying vehicles like the Humvee and cargo-carrying vehicles like the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck are a huge leap forward, the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) also has its sights set on vehicles that are weapons platforms, such as the Abrams tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Stryker.