The U.S. Army’s Autonomous Platform Demonstrator (APD) will assist soldiers in payload missions and keep them safe in the process. Developed by the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, (TARDEC), the APD is a 9.6-ton, six-wheeled, hybrid-electric robotic vehicle used by the Robotic Vehicle Control Architecture, or RVCA Army Technology Objective, also out of TARDEC. Working with the Army’s Program Executive Office Integration, RVCA has integrated a suite of system control, display, and sensing hardware and software onto the robotic vehicle to enable a soldier to control it in real-time, or operate it in an autonomous mode.
“It uses a variety of sensors and LADAR (laser/radar scanning radar) to detect moving objects at distances,” said Dr. Jim Overholt, senior research scientist in robotics, TARDEC. Additionally, RVCA provides Reconnaissance Surveillance and Target Acquisition capabilities.
“It has a four-meter mast with a sensor ball on top so it goes up pretty high and can see out quite a ways,” said Chris Ostrowski, associate director for Vehicle Electronics and Architectures at TARDEC.
“When you combine the autonomy and control capabilities provided by RVCA with the mobility characteristics of APD, it allows the soldier operator to quickly deploy a mission payload precisely where he wants it, and over some very tough terrain,” said Andrew Kerbrat, APD project manager, TARDEC.
The robotic vehicle is currently undergoing mobility testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. With its advanced hybrid-electric drive train, the 15-foot-long vehicle can achieve speeds of more than 50 mph. High-speed maneuverability tests include lane changing. “This is a challenging controls problem with a skid steer vehicle. We want the robot to be stable when performing maneuvers like this, but we also want it to retain the other mobility characteristics that it possesses at lower speeds,” said Ostrowski. Those characteristics include the ability to climb a one-meter step, navigate a 60% slope, and pivot turn in place.
When equipped with its autonomous navigation system (it is configured with GPS waypoint technology, an inertial measurement unit and computer algorithms) it avoids obstacles in its path. The mobility testing is aimed at advancing and developing the robot’s ability to maneuver at higher speeds while maintaining extreme terrain-ability at lower speeds.
As a series hybrid-electric vehicle, the APD is propelled by six in-hub electric motors and has a diesel generator that charges its lithium ion batteries.
“The state-of-the-art hybrid-electric drive train is just one of the mobility technologies we are demonstrating with this platform,” said Kerbrat. Other technologies being demonstrated include advanced suspension systems, thermal and power management systems, robotic safety systems, and lightweight hull technologies.
“We’ve made a lot of progress with this platform in a short time period. From concept to wheels on the ground was just a shade over two years, and in the eight months since then, we’ve driven almost 3,000 kilometers and have demonstrated 95 percent of the metrics that we were trying to show with this platform,” said Kerbrat.