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08 Oct 07. The Senate’s recent duo of fiscal 2008 defense bills contain provisions promoting unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), reflecting ongoing desires to aid and supplement ground troops with robotic devices. But the provisions, in the regular defense authorization and appropriations bills passed last week, come as the Army’s embattled Future Combat Systems (FCS) program faces a challenging goal: by 2015, one-third of the operational ground combat vehicles acquired through FCS are supposed to be unmanned. Senators said the Army believes that given current development and fielding schedules for FCS, this goal will be met. Still, senators, at least, are moving to help push that along with an additional $12m authorized for the Army’s UGV initiative above the original request for this fiscal year. “Significant technical challenges remain,” the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) said in its authorization bill, including development of propulsion systems, intelligent navigation systems, human-machine interfaces and reliability. A statement by SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the additional funding is supposed to go to integrate and demonstrate sensor technologies, perception hardware and software and robotic control technologies needed to make UGVs maneuver with minimal human intervention on and off-road while at “militarily significant” speeds. (Source: Aviation Week)

03 Oct 07. DARPA Hatches Plan for Insect Cyborgs to Fly Reconnaissance . The goal of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Hybrid-Insect MEMS program is to integrate insects with microelectromechanical systems for remotely controlled military reconnaissance missions. DARPA is funding research into this concept at MIT, Boyce Thompson Institute, and the University of Michigan. DARPA’s Jan Walker says the first two institutions are focusing on embedded MEMS for large moths, while the third has enlisted horned beetles for its experiments. The project will culminate with the flight of a cyborg insect to within five meters of a specific target positioned about 100 meters away using remote control or GPS. The HI-MEMS project seeks to embed the electronics in the insect while it is in a preliminary stage of metamorphosis so that the living tissue grows around the implant before it is activated. A cyborg insect would come equipped with a MEMS chip, sensors, a radio receiver, GPS, and probes linked to the muscles, while personnel would need to be trained to fly these insects remotely or via microcontrollers. The chip would draw power from the bug’s movements to keep the other components functional. DARPA’s ultimate objective is to enable operators to link to the insects’ own natural senses, so that they could, for instance, see directly out of the insect’s eyes rather than through attached cameras. “There are enormous engineering problems with actually realizing remote-controlled animals,” notes Electronic Frontier Foundation staff technologist Peter Eckersley. “I would say the short-term odds of DARPA’s project actually succeeding are very low–it’s theoretically possible, but could take another 100 years to actually do it.” (Source: AUVSI)

01 Oct 07. Contract Award for Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft Delayed. Navy officials have postponed the expected date of a contract award for its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aerial System (BAMS UAS) program. The date has been shifted to January 2009 instead of the final quarter of 2008, says Naval Air Systems Command spokesman John Milliman, adding that Navy officials have requested that the competing firms review their plans and make them more substantial. The contract requires the development, demonstration, and initial production of a network of surveillance drones. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman have been vying for the contract. The BAMS UAS would serve to provide continuous information and reconnaissance using multiple sensors on high-altitude UAVs, w

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