Army Wraps Up Autonomous Micro-robotics Research Program

By David McNally
ARL Public Affairs

After nearly 10 years of collaborative research from the Army, industry and academia, the Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology, or MAST, concludes during a three-day capstone event of presentations and demonstrations of both ground and air micro-robots Aug. 22-24 at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. U.S. Army photo by by Jhi Scott

Researchers from industry and universities across the nation have rallied around a collaborative technology alliance with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory since 2008.

A research program called Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology, or MAST, came to its conclusion during a capstone event of presentations and demonstrations from Aug. 22 – 24 of both ground and air micro-robots.

Teams of researchers gave 17 live demonstrations of the technologies they’ve been working on over the past several years. The University of Pennsylvania showcased a group of autonomous quadcopters that self-organize into formations.

MAST started as a five-year research alliance, which extended to 10 years, and brought together 19 partners from industry and academia. Lead defense contractor, BAE Systems, worked with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on microsystems integration, The University of Michigan worked on microelectronics, while the University of Maryland focused on microsystem mechanics. The University of Pennsylvania targeted processing for autonomous operations.

Officials said technology has advanced dramatically during the life of the program.

“I think there’s still a long way to go to get them to do all of the behaviors we want in any type of environment,” said Dr. Brett Piekarski, the Army’s collaborative alliance manager. “There are certain areas where I think we’ve really pushed the bar and moved the state-of-the-art. One example is in scaling things down to be able to do autonomous behavior in something that fits in the size of your hand.”

“I am absolutely certain this technology will help the soldiers of the future,” said Allison Mathis, the program’s deputy manager and an Army researcher with MAST for the past three years. “We have created advances in everything. There are new platforms, new algorithms, new sensors. Not all of this will be ready next year, or even the next five years, but we have absolutely advanced technology. We are making an impact right now.”

Piekarski said the lab will continue to work with its stakeholders and partners to “take it to the next level.”

The Army recently announced its next focus area for a collaborative technology alliance will be known as Distributed Collaborative Intelligent Systems and Technology, or DCIST.

For more on the MAST innovations, visit

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