Responding to a call for more technologically advanced defense systems, several companies are teaming together to design and develop robotic military vehicles.
In October of 2004, John Deere & Co. and iRobot Corp. began development of the Military R-Gator, a vehicle that combines John Deere's M-Gator military utility vehicle with iRobot's military robotic controls. Unique to this vehicle is the use of off-the-shelf technology rather than custom-built software, which decreases the time for design, development, and cost. While the two-seat vehicle is designed for autonomous missions, it can also be operated manually or by remote control. It is designed to complete numerous operations, including acting as an unmanned scout, “point man,” perimeter guard, pack/ ammo/supply carrier, and more.
John Deere and iRobot have tested the vehicle, and will begin pilot production of the R-Gator by mid-2005, with full production slated to begin in 2006.
In related news, Oshkosh Truck Corp. has teamed up with Rockwell Collins for the development of its second-generation, self-navigating robotic TerraMax vehicle. TerraMax will compete in the $2 million 2005 DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Grand Challenge, sponsored by the Pentagon. The two companies announced the partnership in December 2004.
In 2004, Oshkosh's TerraMax was one of only seven vehicles to complete the 1.3-mile qualifying course set by DARPA, and successfully ran the 1.2 mile desert race. This year, the completely autonomous vehicle will attempt to travel a 175-mile off-road course in the Mojave Desert, scheduled to run October 8.
Oshkosh teamed with Rockwell Collins because of its experience in aviation automation. The TerraMax vehicle is based on an existing Oshkosh combat vehicle that is used in Afghanistan and Iraq.