Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is exploring the potential for cutting-edge autonomous robotic solutions to detect life threatening Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) hazards. With a new £1.5 million investment with industry, Dstl can develop a concept demonstrator to be used in wide area experimental trials.
Dstl has contracted HORIBA MIRA to adapt a VIKING 6×6 Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) and integrate a suite of chemical and radiological sensors supplied by Dstl. Making use of open architectures should allow the development of a CBR sensor suite on a standard ‘pallet’, which could then be mounted onto the appropriate platform when required.
Last year Dstl purchased 3 all-terrain VIKING 6×6 UGVs supplied by HORIBA MIRA, which are capable of carrying payloads of up to 750kg and using advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based autonomy with GPS-denied navigation.
These VIKINGS were purchased under project THESEUS for autonomous logistics resupply missions and are being used for early de-risking work to increase the MoD’s understanding of the capabilities and limitations of these systems in areas such as mobility, vulnerabilities and safety.
For a number of years, Dstl has been researching the potential of using autonomy and unmanned systems to survey areas for CBR materials. The project is now keen to expand out beyond Ministry of Defense (MoD) and see what industry can bring.
“There is an understandable desire to remove the need for people to enter into hazardous areas, even if they are inside a protected vehicle,” Dstl Project Lead, Ian Napier, said.
“Recent developments in autonomous ground and air vehicles offer up some exciting opportunities to develop autonomy for CBR work. However, before making such a step change in our approach, we need to fully understand the variety of potential CBR scenarios and the tasks that may need to be undertaken by autonomous systems.”
This new contract will also fund the development of autonomy algorithms to allow the CBR sensor outputs to help drive the behaviour of the UGV, to detect and map areas of chemical or radiological hazards. One of the VIKINGS will undergo minor modifications to allow it to carry and interface with the CBR sensor pallet.
“This is a great opportunity for us to get a better understanding of the possible strengths and weaknesses of autonomous systems for CBR Recce and Survey,” said Andy Martin, Dstl Technical Lead for the CBR Trials and Experimentation work package.
“They appear well suited for dull and dangerous tasks. But can they fully replace manned systems, or are there some tasks where people are still required to be present?
“The purpose of these trials is not to develop a prototype new system, it is to gather the evidence we need to determine what operational concepts are likely to be successful.”
Andy Maloney, Chief Engineer for Defence and Unmanned Solutions at HORIBA MIRA, added, “We are delighted to be working again with Dstl, MoD stakeholders and front line users in this important area.
“The project enables us to build upon our previous autonomous hazardous area survey work with small robots and leverage the capability of our much larger VIKING UGVs and their leading AI-based autonomy.
“The concept demonstrator will include new sensors and autonomous behaviours, modular autonomous control equipment, the ATLAS GNSS denied navigation system and a user interface provided by our Base Station RAS management software.
“The resulting system will enable significant sensor payloads to be carried over large areas at speed and new autonomous CBR survey concepts to be explored.”