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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

US military convoys are often seen as soft targets in war zones around the world and that puts US service men and women at risk, autonomous trucks take more soldiers out of the firing line.

 

Late last month the US Army tested its latest driverless truck technology on Route 69 in Michigan as regular drivers looked on, oblivious to the fact that they were travelling next to the future of warfare. For all their humdrum khaki looks, these were platooning, semi-autonomous army trucks, moving as one, and since the successful test the Michigan based US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), who developed the trucks, have since suggested that Michigan could be ground zero in developing autonomous technology for commercial trucks. Although, that said, it might have to compete with Arizona for that privilege.

 

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The four beta trucks involved in the experiment, equipped with cameras and LIDAR, were dropped into real Michigan traffic, with human drivers aboard as backups. They used dedicated short range radio, also known as Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication (V2C) to communicate with each other and the smart infrastructure that Michigan’s DOT had installed specially for the experiment in order to get advance notice of things like changing speed limits and closed lanes ahead.

TARDEC is not the only company experimenting with autonomous trucks. Daimler, Peloton Technology and Otto, who recently completed their first fully autonomous commercial delivery, are working in this space too but the US Army’s involvement could make armed conflict a lot safer for soldiers.

 

 

The trucks drove as a convoy of one, also called a platoon – when the leader braked, the others braked, too and that instant responsiveness allowed them to travel so closely together, each drafted off the truck in front of it, enjoying the limited wind resistance, just like Tour de France cyclists.

Army engineers say that they believe fully autonomous truck convoys will be ready to serve in conflict zones in the next ten years, and the reasoning’s obvious.

“We want to get soldiers out of the convoy and away from IEDs,” says Alex Kade, who helps direct the Army center’s research in ground vehicle robotics, “robo-trucks could hump supplies around bases, or resupply soldiers at far flung outposts.”

Despite ethical questions around robotic and autonomous warfare though, a topic that will be debated by the UN this year, the US is pushing ahead all guns blazing – building and deploying everything from autonomous-capable destroyers and fully autonomous sub huntersharbour patrol boatsdrone squadrons and underwater drone highways.

 

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But, for the trucks at least, there are challenges ahead. Like most other autonomous vehicles the technology will need to reliably spot a whole range of obstacles, but these trucks will need to be spot more than just road signs. They’ll need to be able to spot everything from rocks and craters in the road and suspicious objects to incoming fire then use advanced computation to make split second decisions, just like their human drivers. And they’ll have to navigate through areas with little or no communications infrastructure and where markings, signs, and pavements are out of date and poorly maintained.

It’s all a big challenge.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, CNBC, Discovery, RT, and Viacom, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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