The Australian Army successfully operated an autonomous truck convoy on a public road for the first time earlier in the month.
The National Transport Research Organisation and Deakin University supported the leader-follower trial on 6 June, in which a convoy of four autonomous Army trucks followed a crewed ‘leader’ vehicle on a public road in Victoria.
Colonel Robin Smith, of Army’s Future Land Warfare Branch, said the autonomous vehicles performed well.
“This trial showed how a convoy could undertake a resupply mission between an airfield and a military base, giving us an idea of how this kind of technology could be used in the future,” Colonel Smith said.
“Driving on a highway in traffic meant the technology was tested to stop safely, and leave distances between other vehicles, while following the path set by the leader.
“Down the track, technology like this could remove our soldiers from dangerous environments, or help free soldiers up for other roles.”
During the highway trials, Army simulated an autonomous resupply mission between Mangalore Airfield and Puckapunyal using the Goulburn Valley Highway and the Hume Highway.
The trial is part of Army’s modernisation, which includes exploring human machine teaming, quantum technology, artificial intelligence and electrification.
Prior to this five modified Land 121 40M cargo trucks were trialled at Royal Air Force Base Point Cook.
The autonomous leader-follower vehicle technology, using Rheinmetall/MAN medium tactical vehicles, was initially developed under a contract between the Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI) at Deakin University, and Army’s Robotic and Autonomous Systems Implementation and Coordination Office (RICO).
Eventually, it is anticipated the trucks will be able to travel on various roads, even without markings.
First announced in late 2021, the $12.2 million project helps address future operational challenges, including for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and in combat operations.
Evaluations of autonomous M113 AS4 with BAE System installing hardware and software into Armoured Personnel Carriers to allow soldiers to operate them autonomously, however, date back to 2019.
The Army said it would continue to collaborate with industry and academia to explore how technology can increase mission success and lower risk to soldiers.