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Wednesday 28 September 2016
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U.S. Army Developing Autonomous Soldier Shuttles

U.S. Army Developing Autonomous Soldier Shuttles

So when an injured U.S. soldier can’t make it to a doctor’s appointment due to lack of parking and traffic issues, we’d call that a problem. But that seems to be what’s happening around the Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The fact that soldiers are missing expensive, sometimes $5,000 a pop, rehab appointments due to parking issues is pretty mind-boggling to us in the first place. But at least the Army thinks it has an answer to the problem.

Automotive News reports the U.S. Army is working on a modified, self-driving, version of a Cushman Shuttle golf cart to get soldiers around Fort Bragg. They’ll be used to drive combat-wounded soldiers from their barracks to the medical center.

Developing these types of autonomous vehicles present special challenges because they’re not designed for public roads. Instead, they’re designed to be driven in extremely controlled, low-speed areas like the paths through the Fort Bragg campus. As such, they won’t have a bunch of road signs 0r lane markers to use for guidance.

The three-phase project is being run by the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center. The first test phase is already underway at Fort Bragg. Shuttles equipped with sensors are being dispatched to soldiers requesting door-to-door service. A driver is in full control of the wheel, while sensors collect the data needed to develop the autonomous system. The second phase is scheduled to begin later this fall. At that point, the cart should have the technology to drive itself, but with someone in the driver’s seat just in case. The third phase, which is expected to kick off in late 2017, will ditch the driver entirely.

There are huge applications here beyond Fort Bragg. These self-driving vehicles could one day also be deployed on the battlefield.

Meanwhile, this isn’t the only autonomous project the U.S. Army has in the works. In June, it started testing autonomous convoys in Michigan. One test involved four tractor-trailers that communicated with special roadside units as they cruised down the highway. The goal of the project is to develop vehicle-to-infrastructure technology. You can read more about the test project here.

Photo Credit: Cushman