back to article Unmanned, autonomous ROBOT TRUCK CONVOY 'drives though town'

The US Army says it has successfully conducted a test in which not just one but an entire convoy of unmanned, autonomous, robotized military lorries successfully drove through "urban areas" on their own without crashing into anything or running over any pedestrians. US Army robotised trucks. Credit: Lockheed Goddammit, …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

    Commuting sucks.

    Where's my goddamned Johnny Cab?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Commuting sucks.

      I take it that when they say they tested it in a 'town' , this a 'town' with more than 1 hovel and > 10 goats in Afghanistan?

      1. FrankAlphaXII

        Re: Commuting sucks.

        They most likely tested it on one of the MOUT ranges at Fort Irwin, Fort Bliss/White Sands Missile Range, or Fort Polk.

        For those of you that don't know, A MOUT range is a bunch of corrugated shipping containers vismodded to look like a town in most of the middle east, or its quick and dirty and looks like a bunch of containers. The good ones are generally as chaotically arranged as a place like Mazar-i-Sharif or Tal Afar as well. So I'm naturally curious as to how much marketing spin is being employed here and whether the robot HEMTT was limited to MSRs (Main Supply Routes, bigger roads) or if it could handle link routes and other smaller roads as well.

        Personally, I'd really like to know how the motherfucker handles checkpoints without running over the security team. I don't especially want to get run over by the robot truck. After nearly being run over by people driving LMTVs and HEMTTs it does make me nervous.

        Plus no robot's gonna be able to respond with its guidance system blasted out or if something irregular happens that requires a Soldier's judgement and experience to make the correct call on. So the drivers will still be there in some form to take over control of the convoy and also in smaller vehicles to run security on the convoy, but it will free up a number of the MPs and Infantrymen who generally provide convoy security nowadays. If the Army does it correctly, which is a big if.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Commuting sucks.

          Ft. Hood Texas. One way something like this could be used is if the autonomy frees up the driver to instead scan for threats.

        2. Wzrd1

          Re: Commuting sucks.

          There are also MOUT sites built like urban Germany, back from the Cold War days.

          Complete with storm drain systems.

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    If they want the drivers out of the cabs

    why did they build cabs on them?

    1. localzuk

      Re: If they want the drivers out of the cabs

      Because they retrofitted the technology to existing vehicles? Why would they build brand new vehicles for a concept that they hadn't proven yet?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: If they want the drivers out of the cabs

        Union rules

      2. Jon Egerton

        Re: If they want the drivers out of the cabs

        And because, if there is no cab, then they have to be autonomous all the time (driving around camp etc), not just for the more routable journey between bases in the field.

  3. solo

    Making it practical

    "... and/or peppered by enemy fire in ambushes ..."

    Why they'll fire, it'd be as simple for the enemies to stand up and wave hands to stop the convoy. The only tough task remaining would be blowing up the gates of the trucks.

    So, as a true patriot, I suggest that the vehicle must have some self-defense capabilities as well. Bazooka anyone ... ?

    Go back to your hole ... you villager !

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: Making it practical

      "Go back to your hole ... you villager !"

      <chik-chuk> 'You have 20 seconds to comply!'

      1. AbelSoul

        Re: 'You have 20 seconds to comply!'

        "Or there will be..... trouble."

        (I know, I know, different characters: ED209 / Murphy.)

  4. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    To be fair

    the military has a harder job than Google. Nobody is (I hope) working hard to find ways to send a convoy of Google cars over a cliff.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: To be fair

      Google cars going over a cliff? What a spiffing idea. Then they might stop slurping our data and everything else. Google has got far too powerful and needs dismembering.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: To be fair

      " Nobody is (I hope) working hard to find ways to send a convoy of Google cars over a cliff."

      Although it has been achieved on at least one occasion

  5. frank ly
    Happy

    "... nobody wants to be colonel of a load of robot trucks."

    I do !!

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: "... nobody wants to be colonel of a load of robot trucks."

      I understand. But that's exactly one of the reasons why you aren't a colonel.

      1. OvAl

        Re: "... nobody wants to be colonel of a load of robot trucks."

        ...and the Colonel couldn't tell whether being in charge of a fleet of robo-trucks would be a great feather in his cap, or a terrible, terrible black eye.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "... nobody wants to be colonel of a load of robot trucks."

          "and the Colonel couldn't tell whether being in charge of a fleet of robo-trucks would be a great feather in his cap, or a terrible, terrible black eye."

          So he asked Colonel Korn and found out.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "... nobody wants to be colonel of a load of robot trucks."

            Damn! Now I'll have to withdraw _my_ comment!

            Some might argue "What if _everyone_ beaten to the post withdrew their comment?" to which I would have to reply "Then I'd be a damn fool not to!"

      2. frank ly
        Unhappy

        Re: "... nobody wants to be colonel of a load of robot trucks."

        There are so many reasons.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "... nobody wants to be colonel of a load of robot trucks."

        I understand. But that's exactly one of the reasons why you aren't a colonel.

        Given that, I think, the US airforce are getting annoyed that their Army are now "flying" drones .... and worse, using non-officers as "pilots" then maybe its a chance for payback time with the USAF starting to ramp up squadrons of self-drive trucks! So if not Colonel then how abaou Squardron leader?

        1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

          Re: "... nobody wants to be colonel of a load of robot trucks."

          Although of course the USAF do not use "squadron leader" and brand their flyboys uniformly (well similarly) with the doughboys I believe

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Go

    Optimal solution?

    I seems to me it would be a lot more effective to use remote drivers, the way they pilot drones. A real mind to cope with all the complexities of the road in a battlezone, but no exposure to a real human being. The autonomous system could serve as a backup in the case of jamming.

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      Re: Optimal solution?

      Surely the optimal solution is to stop having wars?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Optimal solution?

        Surely the optimal solution is to stop having wars?

        Sorry, not a financially viable option, do you know how great wars are for the gravy train.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Optimal solution?

        Or you could still have the wars but both sides have the drones in simulator mode.

        Ultimately you could just play WoW instead

    2. Boothy Silver badge

      Re: Optimal solution?

      Quote: 'I seems to me it would be a lot more effective to use remote drivers, the way they pilot drones.'

      I would suspect they can do this anyway, as it would be simple to implement once you have the rest of the autonomous processes in place. And would be useful as a backup for things where the truck isn't sure what to do, or some part of the autonomous system breaks down.

      But I suspect there would be too many issues for this remote driver mode to be used under normal circumstances. Couple of thinks I can think of :

      1. Latency. With drones not really an issue, as you're flying through empty space (hopefully), so no pedestrians suddenly jumping out in front of you. For anything requiring quick reflexes, by the time a remote driver had received the images/warning, and responded to it, it would already be too late.

      2. Comms: With a drone, you're up in the air, so would have line of site for a lot of the time, and then satellites once beyond the horizon. A truck on the other hand would be in valleys, driving through tunnels, under bridges etc. At which point your going to loose comms, so for a remote driven vehicle, you'd still need to have a fully autonomous mode for those situations, and if you have full autonomy, not really much point have a remote driver.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Optimal solution?

        With drones in the air, they can fly escort on convoys and look out for such things as well as providing commlinks to drivers elsewhere. Why be dependent on just one set of inputs in one location?

        OTOH the trucks must be capable of autonomous operation if cut off from comms.

  7. ewozza
    Thumb Down

    The trucks navigate via GPS - OMG, supply trains for any enemy clever enough to push the on switch on a GPS spoofer.

    Even Iran has GPS subversion technology these days...

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/12/15/us_spy_drone_gps_spoofing/

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Or just build temporary brick walls diverting the convoy to their inventory :)

      1. P_0

        Or just build temporary brick walls diverting the convoy to their inventory :)

        And then the Reaper drones circling above can zero in on the enemy's inventory location. Boom! Bye-bye enemy weapon stockpile.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Or, they can just block the trucks from all the sides, waiting for the needed troops to die of scarcity (arms and food).

          I will stop here as I am feeling sick now. You cannot keep thinking that so much ammunition will be sent just relying on retaliation threats.

        2. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

          Sir

          "Or just build temporary brick walls"

          no need, just a stack of cardboard boxes would do

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Sir

            >supply trains for any enemy clever enough to push the on switch on a GPS spoofer

            There aretechniques for coping with that situation. Basically, the system uses GPS or GLONASS, but as it does so it builds an 'atlas' of other radio (across a range of frequencies) sources, such as civilian broadcast towers which it can fall back on should someone try and spoof the GPS.

            http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/07/02/bae_navsop/

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "An Eye for a Tyre"

  9. Vociferous

    I want robotic cars.

    Seriously, why the hell am I still driving my car instead of the other way around?

    1. solo
      Trollface

      Re: I want robotic cars.

      My car drives me nuts sometimes. Those trucks can sure improve.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: I want robotic cars.

        The steering wheel in the top of my pants drives me nuts.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I want robotic cars.

          No need to get your coat. Someone had to say it!

  10. We're all in it together

    They all come with a robotic arm

    So they can pay the Dartford crossing

    1. Chemist

      Re: They all come with a robotic arm

      "So they can pay the Dartford crossing"

      NOT for much longer though !

      http://www.highways.gov.uk/our-road-network/managing-our-roads/improving-our-network/the-dartford-thurrock-river-crossing/

      The Dartford - Thurrock River Crossing

      Intro­duc­tion of remote payment

      From Octo­ber 2014 there will be changes to how you pay to use the Dart­ford cross­ing. You will no longer stop at the cross­ing bar­ri­ers to pay the charge, instead pay­ment will be made:

      online

      via text

      on the phone

      at retail outlets

      So they'll need robot fingers to punch the phone ( not whilst driving!)

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: They all come with a robotic arm

        Oh, nice. And this will work for tourists how, exactly? What happens if the battery in your phone is flat?

  11. Grade%
    Terminator

    Military?

    This mil spec stuff trickles (dribbles) down plebwise soon enough and then all lorry drivers everywhere will and can look for work elsewhere. The fallout should be interesting. Roadside diners will tumbleweed away. Hmm, maybe even embed a power strip in the highway so the convoy never need stop until destination reached. They best perfect organ cloning quickly because it would be fun to see the next hundred years play out.

    1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

      Re: Military?

      So, a bit like a train then?

    2. Vociferous

      Re: Military?

      Yes. Vehicle drivers of all types are a doomed breed, they'll go the way of lamplighters and switchboard operators within the next decade or two.

      I'm not entirely sure that "fun" is how I'd describe the likely events the next 100 years, but I agree it'll be interesting. What will humans do the day robots and computers do everything better, faster and cheaper than a human can?

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Military?

      >The fallout should be interesting. Roadside diners will tumbleweed away.

      We've seen this before, in the UK. Staging Inns, placed along routes to provide fresh horses for coaches suffered as railways were developed.

    4. mastodon't
      Joke

      Re: Military?

      all lorry drivers everywhere will and can look for work elsewhere.

      on the positive side serial killing would cease to be a problem.

  12. dorsetknob
    Pirate

    Must be a SLOW NEWS DAY

    Lazy columnist

    this is just a rehash of an earlier story already done on this site "2 Days ago"

    http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2014/02/01/us_army_tests_alldrone_supply_train/

    so in all fairness here was my post

    quote

    ""

    Buy shares in Military Supply companeys

    Jihadist / insurgents with RPG + loads of reloads take out the vehicle wheels convoy is stopped until its repaired

    others scatter loads of IED devices to hinder the repair/recovery

    think the convoy owner ( US military )would abandon the convoy as the cost of recovery in $$$ and lives outweighs the risk.

    Jihadist loot convoy end result is US military feed and supply the Jihadist / insurgents

    The Future of Your US TAX payer Dollar

    icon indicates IED Minefield ahead ""

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Must be a SLOW NEWS DAY @dorsetknob

      "Lazy columnist"

      So says the guy who's had two 10 minute chances to correct the lack of capitalisation, full stops and the misspelling of companies.

      1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

        Re: Must be a SLOW NEWS DAY @dorsetknob

        Not really - he was just re-using

  13. Scott Broukell
    Meh

    Auto-truck Convoy delivery notice ...

    We called but nobody was home, we left your packages with your those nice folks next door who were very willing to help, oops!

  14. UtterTosh

    Appliqué‎ ? Are they planning some sort of Miltary Robotised Arts and Craft Club ?

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Yes, they've been jealous of the Tankers Playpen, whose members have been playing with appliqué armour for decades...

    2. John Bailey

      Wait til you see the tactical decoupage.

      1. Vociferous

        I'm not happy until there's tactical décolletage.

  15. Arachnoid
    Alert

    Danger ,Danger Will Robinson!!

    I hope they forewarned pedestrians and other road users that there was an increased danger of

    A: Getting run into

    B: Unable to claim from the driver for any injuries or damage

    C: That the soldier/Scientist sat in the cab txting or using Google glasses is not actually driving

    On a serious note they may still need the cab and human control instrumentation because the vehicles may still need shunting by an actual real person in depots for loading and unloading.

  16. spider from mars

    Mad Max

    We've all seen this concept before in sci-fi, and every time it involved the trucks being hijacked and looted.

  17. Arachnoid
    Mushroom

    Yes but.........

    These would have an automated armed helicopter overhead

    1. FrankAlphaXII

      Re: Yes but.........

      Probably not. Convoys don't usually get much direct air in and of themselves, they may get a Kiowa running RSTA if there's somewhere that someone feels like seeing up close as to how they local rabble respond to being poked at by the route clearance company initially and then the convoy and its security later on. But there's no gunships following along with a convoy, its a waste of a gunship to do that. At least I've never seen a gunship providing overwatch for one without doing something else at the same time.

      Generally they attempt to pick routes for convoys in places that we're either directly holding at the time or can secure pretty quickly, but no Army can be at all places at all times and when you're fighting insurgents, so they can generally appear, attack, retreat and disappear pretty fairly freely so its a guessing game if they're any good.

      They always have a security team along with the convoy on the ground with them though. And the engineers usually go through first to make sure the road's passable and try to open it if it isnt.

  18. harmjschoonhoven
    WTF?

    I would be impressed if the autonomous convoy drove through downtown Peshawar and passed the Khyber Pass.

    BTW no need for IEDs, a scarecrow or a bunch of strategically placed cardbord schoolchildren will stop the convoy. And a large mirror can confuse the ladar.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      "a bunch of strategically placed cardbord schoolchildren will stop the convoy."

      Perhaps. OTOH, if the software has been written by Men In Black or some similar secretive organisation, the trucks will be programmed to drive right over the little schoolgirls milling about on roads in the land of Mujahaddins...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How will they identify schoolchildren? Those poor kids will have to buy costly uniforms now .. sad.

      However no mercy for the moms/dads.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        "How will they identify schoolchildren?"

        By them holding quantum physics textbooks in their hands?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Those with quantum physics textbooks will be killed on priority.

  19. Magnus_Pym

    to all the nay-sayers.

    No driver also makes it easier, politics wise, to add a remote self destruct system. If the truck gets to the destination it unloads the container and returns home. No danger to the troops. If it detects a road block or deviation from the set course it alerts the base that the self destruct timer has been initiated and waits to see if base sends the stop signal. If no stop is received - boom.

    So: unmanned supply vehicle or exploding trojan horse. win-win.

  20. Justin B

    Boom

    Or, you throw some well packed bags of explosives onto the back, with gps triggers... they roll into base and promptly blow up.

  21. caffeine addict

    New terrorist plan...

    * Stop trucks with innocent pedestrians

    * Get someone to fit a quantity of explosive to the trucks

    * Get your innocent pedestrians to move

    * Let the trucks drive into the base

    * ???

    * Profit

    1. John G Imrie

      Re: New terrorist plan...

      This has the added advantage in that you can re-use the innocent pedestrians instead of having to round up a new bunch of them.

    2. Christoph

      Re: New terrorist plan...

      The trucks would never get as far as the terrorists.

      The first village the convoy comes to, a few people stand in the road. Convoy stops. A swarm of villagers climb over the trucks and remove the cargo and anything else moveable.

      A couple of minutes later the aerial surveillance arrives and finds empty trucks and no sign of the cargo.

  22. Scroticus Canis
    Unhappy

    Bet you they forgot.....

    "Whad yah mean they drive on the other side of the road?"

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    an invaluable rehearsal ...

    "This operation provided us with an invaluable rehearsal for our own redeployment."

    Correct me if I am wrong, but in the First World War didn't you get shot for "redeployment"?

  24. TaabuTheCat

    It's all fun and games...

    until they reach the Le Petomane tollway. "Somebody go back and get a sh!@load of dimes!"

  25. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    But that would mean an end to Youtube vids of crazy swearing, random shooting and shouts of 'Go! Go! Go!"

  26. Crisp

    Brobdingnagian

    It's the opposite of lilliputian.

  27. Andus McCoatover
    Windows

    Order to Grunt.

    "Let's get it on!"

    "What, Sarge?"

    "This. The last suit you'll ever wear..."

    (Apologies to Men In Black)

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Terminator

    "US Army droid teamsters 'avoid pedestrians' without trouble"

    Makes it sound like there is a switch somewhere to make the trucks target pedestrians!!

    (Operation "Maximum Overdrive"?)

  29. Berio

    There's pedestrian and pedestrian

    Does the software know the difference between an shepherd stick/shovel handle and an assault riffle ? Even when the holder is sitting in a pick-up truck ?

  30. David 45

    Location?

    And just WHERE, exactly, did this take place, I wonder? Pictures, also, please.

  31. Vociferous

    Two words: google driverless car.

    I think many of you guys may not be aware just how good robotic cars already are. They are already better drivers than humans, are tested in city traffic, and have a perfect safety record.

    I wouldn't expect these military robotic cars to be any worse than Google's robotic cars -- and I doubt they'll be sent into hot zones without backup.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Two words: google driverless car.

      Are Google cars safe in hostile territories as well?

      One way to test that in US is, load it full with gold and diamond that shine outside of the window.

      1. Vociferous

        Re: Two words: google driverless car.

        > Are Google cars safe in hostile territories as well?

        In a combat situation, what do you mean by "safe"? Are human-driven armored vehicles safe in hostile territories?

  32. Paul J Turner

    I so want driverless cars to have full independant licences

    No more easy revenue for the breathalyser cops who will perhaps be allowed to do something worthwhile and Bonus, no insanely boring but cheap to produce TV shows covering it.

    I'll bet they ensure that the law says that the person in the car is 'in charge' of the AI and must be sober.

    1. Mark .

      Re: I so want driverless cars to have full independant licences

      "I'll bet they ensure that the law says that the person in the car is 'in charge' of the AI and must be sober."

      In fact I believe this is already covered by the law - e.g., consider cases where you have a learner driver, who must be supervised by someone with a licence. They still have to be sober, and this is covered IIRC by some law about being "in charge" of a vehicle. AI cars that still require a licensed driver to supervise will no doubt still be covered.

      It'll be interesting how things go if the law is changed to allow truly driverless cars, without a requirement for anyone to have a licence. It would be a shame if Governments try to insist that there is still a notional person "in charge" of the vehicle - this would also limit applications such as driverless taxis.

  33. Niles

    "navigating hazards and obstacles … and traffic circles in both urban and rural test areas."

    Traffic circles? Well looks like the robots are already better drivers than your average North American.

  34. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Air cover

    Any UAV or helicopter shadowing a convey makes for a nice radar or infrared beacon to let the other side know a convoy is on the road. The same sort of problem exists for carrier air groups. The CAP generally paces the fleet. Overlay some data over time and a nice pattern (or line) emerges.

    Driverless convoy vehicles also means there is no mechanic available. A very simple problem is unrepairable. What if a fuel line becomes disconnected or a battery lead falls off; it's a 5 minute fix for a human and a lost shipment without. Kinda sucks to be self-destructing expensive trucks full of gear because somebody didn't tighten up a bolt properly.

    As far as Google's hallucination about self-driving cars, the insurance companies haven't had their say yet. People are still better at adapting to changing situations than computers at this point. UltraGlobalPRT has some great concepts to extend their pod car system that is running at Heathrow to include other automated vehicles that work to the same spec.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021