Posted on May 13, 2019
The British military has a long history of pioneering UGVs.
The Wheelbarrow, the world’s first bomb-disposal robot, based on the chassis of an actual motorised wheelbarrow, was used in Northern Ireland in 1972. But while armed aerial drones like the Reaper are now commonplace, the Ministry of Defence has been cautious about arming ground robots. The exercise at Tregantle Beach, in Cornwall, which Alpha Company of 40 Commando and 1 Assault Group Royal Marines (1AGRM) carried out with two armed robotic vehicles, was something of a milestone.
The robotic vehicles are known as Titan by QinetiQ, who developed them in conjunction with Estonian company Milrem Robotics. The original version is known as THeMIS, short for Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System. It is a vehicle about the size of a golf cart at 2.4m long by 2m wide, and weighing just under 1.5 tonnes. There are two versions – one with a hybrid diesel/electric engine and the other is purely electric. The top speed is only 20 kph, but Titan has plenty of power to handle rough terrain, being able to climb a 60% slope. It copes easily with sand, snow and mud, and can ford up to 60 cm of water. Titan has multiple cameras and infra-red vision, and is controlled via a ruggedized tablet handset.
There are plenty of other UGVs around, but what distinguishes this one, according to Milrem CEO Kuldar Väärsi, are two key factors: safety and security. There have always been serious concerns about unmanned vehicles operating around people, and the THeMIS was specifically designed with this in mind. Mr Väärsi said: “We have added several fail-safe solutions, hardware and software based, to avoid any accidents and to guarantee that the UGV is safe to use for soldiers.”
Another concern is security and the risk that a communications link will either be jammed or hacked into. Mr Väärsi noted: “All technology that can be jammed will be jammed.” He explains the robots use military-grade radios designed to work in a jamming environment, but they do not simply assume it will work. Even more important is to develop more efficient and capable autonomy. That way jamming will not affect the basic functions of system.”
This means the robots are capable of driving themselves and do not rely on having a connection to a human controller the entire time, though weapons can only be fired by the operator. An advanced cyber-security suite ensures that the control system cannot be hacked.