United States tests UGV unmanned ground vehicles at PNTAX 23

At the 2023 Position, Navigation, and Timing Assessment Experiment (PNTAX), the Robotics for Engineer Operations (REO) team of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) demonstrated the capabilities of their Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) in an environment lacking support from the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS).
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A series of UAVs are being tested under various conditions at PNTAX 23 (Picture source: US DoD)

PNTAX serves as a platform for continuous experimentation and learning. It allows for field testing of technologies in environments where standard navigation systems are compromised. The tests focused on the UGVs' ability to navigate and move freely on challenging terrains, such as rugged combat trails, without relying on conventional navigation aids.

Chief Warrant Officer Charles Bashor (CW4) of the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory highlighted the importance of such events in advancing military technology. He noted that PNTAX provides an ideal framework for testing and refining new technologies in realistic and army-specific environments.

Over three days and nights, the REO team conducted tests under various environmental conditions, essential for simulating real conflict scenarios. The focus was on assessing the UGVs' mapping capabilities without GNSS positioning, using algorithms developed by ERDC for precise localization.

Despite active GPS jamming and spoofing during the tests, the UGVs operated autonomously with minimal interference, a success attributed to the robustness of the developed algorithms. Dr. Anton Netchaev, Senior Research Scientist at ERDC, expressed great satisfaction with the team's performance and the progress they have made in GNSS-denied operational capabilities.

These autonomous UGVs are designed to provide soldiers with critical battlefield information from a distance, offering insights into terrain features, potential hazards, and obstacles. This technology aligns with the Army's Human Machine Integrated Formations (HMIF) concept, aiming to integrate Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCVs) into Brigade Combat Teams for enhanced situational awareness and tactical flexibility. RCVs, remotely controlled or operating semi-autonomously, will play various roles such as scouting and escorting manned vehicles.

Data gathered from PNTAX will inform the Cross-Functional Team for Next Generation Combat Vehicles under the Army Futures Command in developing requirements for the Army's Robotic Combat Vehicle program.

Building on their success at PNTAX, the ERDC REO team plans to improve the UGVs' navigational capabilities for off-road military operations, according to Dr. Ahmet Soylemezoglu, REO Project Lead. The team intends to include additional sensing modalities to provide a more comprehensive operational view for military engineers.

To further their experimentation, the REO team will participate in the annual Maneuver Support, Protection, and Integration Experiments (MSPIX 24) organized by the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence Battle Lab, where they will continue to refine and test their technology.