This Ain’t No Rodeo: Robots on a Mission

This ain't our first rodeo. (Photo: DOD)
This blog post was shared by the Military Sensing Information Analysis Center. It is the seventh in our 22-part series produced by the Defense Technical Information Center.

We’re all familiar with robots. They seem to be everywhere these days – building vehicles, performing surgeries, and even vacuuming our living room floors. But did you know that innovative robotics research has also entered the battlefield?  With the help of experts from the Military Sensing Information Analysis Center (SENSIAC), researchers recently demonstrated to the U.S. Army an advanced approach that enables autonomous collaboration among dissimilar robotic vehicles.

So…what exactly does that mean? Imagine two small-scale aircraft and a full-size automobile that can perform a complex, interactive mission without human intervention. This system, known as the Collaborative Unmanned Systems Technology Demonstrator (CUSTD), uses onboard computers running advanced collaborative-vehicle software – along with novel sensors and open standards-based communications and interfaces – to create an autonomous system with unique capabilities.

The CUSTD system took part in the 2010 Robotics Rodeo, held at Fort Benning, Georgia and hosted by the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC).

Fast-moving unmanned air vehicles can find targets over a wide area, but their altitude and the limitations of their lightweight sensors can lessen the quality of gathered data. However, the UAVs can call in an unmanned ground vehicle – equipped with large, complex sensors and cameras – to analyze the target location more fully.

In a typical CUSTD scenario, the two aircraft search for an existing target over a wide area.  When one plane spots the target, it radios its location using GPS coordinates to the unmanned ground vehicle, which then finds its way around buildings and along roads to the target.

At the same time, the unmanned air vehicle over the target can ask the second aircraft to fly to the target and use its sensors to further analyze the situation. Such flexibility can be important because UAVs are often outfitted with different sensors due to weight and cost considerations.

“We believe our system represents the leading edge of demonstrating collaborative autonomous vehicle capabilities,” said Lora Weiss, SENSIAC expert and member of the Unmanned and Autonomous Systems team. “This system demonstrates not only the collaborative interoperability possible among dissimilar vehicles, but also the numerous sensing technologies that can be included onboard as interchangeable payloads – chemical and infrared sensors, still and video cameras, and sophisticated signal- and data-processing.”

The Military Sensing Information Analysis Center (SENSIAC) is one of ten Information Analysis Centers (IACs) established by DOD and managed by the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC).  SENSIAC is the DOD Center of Excellence responsible for acquiring, archiving, analyzing, synthesizing and disseminating scientific and technical information related to Military Sensing Technology (MST).

Interested in learning more, or working with SENSIAC on an upcoming effort? SENSIAC can be reached via the IAC website at

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One Response to This Ain’t No Rodeo: Robots on a Mission

  1. Joshua P Camara says:

    It’s great to see the DOD coming up with ways for unmanned vehicles to communicate with each other. This kind of development is key for full integration of this type of equipment in operations.