US Army is looking to make Humvees self-driving very soon

The Pentagon wants to convert the US Army's fleet of mighty Humvees into self-driving units over the next few years.
Christopher McFadden
Robot Humvees could be a thing very soon.


The Pentagon has announced that it intends to make Humvees self-driving. Under a program called Ground Expeditionary Autonomy Retrofit System (GEARS for short), the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is ramping up to convert the army's existing fleet with autonomous capabilities over the next few years. The logic behind the move is to swap out the most vulnerable part of any military vehicle--it's a very human and mortal driver.

In a warzone, supply infrastructure is often under pressure, and finding ways to move troops and supplies around can make or break a campaign. Where threat levels are low (like in zones of control), logistics can often be set up similarly to a domestic setting with trucks, but in occupied territory or areas with insurgents, army logistical vehicles are often the target of ambushes or direct attacks. So, the theory goes if logistical vehicles can be robotized and automated as much as possible, any lost vehicles will only mean lost gear, not human life.

To this end, the DUI set June 13 (today) as the deadline to collate ideas on how best to do this. The DIU requires vendors to demonstrate their ability to automate vehicle driving as part of the program. Once the contract is awarded, six vehicles must be converted annually to convert 50 or more vehicles within two and a half years. Interestingly, other armies, like the Australian Army, are also experimenting with something similar.

“The Department of Defense (DoD) has an existing fleet of military vehicles for its logistics operations. Today, however, these vehicles require human operators. In deployed situations, this creates unnecessary risk to service members’ lives and introduces limits to operational tactics,” reads the solicitation from DIU. “Human operators also have work-to-rest cycles, resulting in additional time constraints. In a fast-moving conflict, the ability to continuously move supplies from one hub to another will significantly impact the ability to sustain operations while maintaining the safety of troops,” the DIU continues.

“Solutions must have the ability to operate in environments inherent to military operations,” adds the DIU. “Desired mission sets include, but are not limited to, convoy operations, waypoint navigation, and teleoperations. Solutions should be built to open architecture standards and be capable of integrating new hardware, software, and features as they become available,” says the DIU.

Since the ultimate objective is to have vehicles that can operate without human intervention, this could involve placing the driver in a remote seat or eliminating the need for a driver. By removing human operators from vehicles, supply trucks become reusable containers for goods, minimizing the risk of becoming prime military targets. Although goods may still be lost in attacks, remote navigation will provide military officials with accurate information on the timing and location of such incidents. Consequently, military bases can be supplied as nodes in a vast transportation network rather than vulnerable caravans under constant threat of attack.

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