Carnegie Mellon gets $14.4 million to build robo-tank

Unmanned aircraft are showing up in the skies more often and today the US Army awarded $14.4 million to Carnegie Mellon to build a remote-controlled unmanned tank.

Tanks for the memories

A certain amount of the award will go toward significantly improving the Crusher, a 6.5-ton unmanned support vehicle Carnegie engineers developed in 2006 in conjunction with DARPA. Since its introduction, the Crusher has demonstrated unparalleled toughness and mobility during extensive field trials in extremely rugged terrain, according to Carnegie Mellon.

The next generation Autonomous Platform Demonstrator (APD) ill make use of the latest suspension, vehicle frame, and hybrid-electric drive technologies to improve upon its predecessor's performance. Enhanced mobility capabilities will push the envelope for autonomous and semi-autonomous operation, the engineers said. The engineers will develop a comprehensive control architecture that makes use of hardware and software components as well.

Ultimately unmanned ground vehicles would be outfitted with anti-tank or anti-aircraft missiles and anti-personnel weapons to make them lethal. Part of the new award budget is also slated to help the university prove that autonomous ground vehicles are feasible in future combat situations. But most of these vehicles haven't advanced that far with weaponry. According to the GlobalSecurity.org Web site other smaller unmanned vehicles have had success in the field. The M60 Panther and the Mini-Flail prototype mine proofing systems were used with great success in Bosnia and Kosovo. The M60 is a full blown tank modified for mine sweeping operations. The Air Force is using the All-Purpose Remote Transport System (ARTS) overseas for force protection and homeland defense in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

The university's National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC), will be working closely with the US Army Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) on the project. NREC is the commercialization arm of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute.

Carnegie Mellon's Tartan Racing team recently won first place and $2 million in the DARPA Urban Challenge this past weekend. The field of 11 autonomous vehicles was pitted against each other on a course of suburban/urban roadways.

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