HIDDEN ENEMIES – CONFINED SPACES
25 Jun 12. Hidden enemies. Confined spaces. Concealed boobytraps. For soldiers who must search and clear buildings, it can be one of the riskiest jobs on the urban battlefield. Given the danger in exploring structures where combatants might lurk, is it possible to harness robots as an extension of the team, coordinating with their human counterparts to find adversaries, while keeping them out of harms way?
To address that challenge, Aptima, which applies expertise human and machine systems, is developing CHAMP, a system for Coordinating with Humans by Adjustable-autonomy for Multirobot Pursuit. CHAMP is a software system that advances human-robotic interactions for the unique demands of room clearing operations, allowing humans and teams of robots to cooperate in the coordinated search and pursuit of adversaries inside buildings and underground spaces.
At the heart of CHAMP is a combination of algorithms that address several key challenges for mixed human-robotic cooperation in the urban battlefield. The system creates a search and pursuit strategy that’s optimized for any number of robots teamed together, with the robots methodically and systematically seeking the presence of adversaries. As they explore interior and subterranean spaces, the robots map and share the intelligence with other networked team members for situational awareness. CHAMP’s adjustable autonomy allows the robot team to search independently, or under the more direct control of the human operator, where it dynamically adjusts the roles between human and the robot team as mission circumstances unfold. For example, upon detecting an evader, a robot might verbally notify the human team through their headsets while guarding the contaminated space. Other robots would then take on new search objectives, or assume new roles, such as providing sentry cover as the human patrol team advances.
Aptima is developing CHAMP in partnership with iRobot and Imprimis, for the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC). The system is expected to improve the safety and effectiveness of the small-unit tactical teams tasked with clearing and holding urban terrain, where finding and engaging adversaries who may be hiding, or intermingled with others, is difficult and dangerous.
While small unmanned ground vehicles (SUGV) have improved in mobility, sensing, and artificial intelligence, CHAMP is focused on how a team of these assets can integrate with humans on a specific mission. “When it comes to multiple robots in the field, we know from feedback that warfighters want a multiplier effect, having one-to-many control rather than just one-to-one,” said Jeanine Ayers, CHAMP Project Manager for Aptima, and Associate Division Director of Software Engineering.
“Given the practicalities and hazards of the urban battle space, we can’t expect soldiers to constantly look down and manipulate a device to control a robot. Rather, robots will need to function more like a human team member, self-organizing, acting autonomously, even communicating as a human would, with gestures, in a situation that calls for stealth,” Ayers added.