Self-driving vehicles are now gaining a lot of popularity, with many companies looking forward to deploying them as part of their fleet. In fact, the Google Self-Driving car has drawn worldwide attention and is believed by some to be the future of the automobile. The latest organization to show an interest in autonomous vehicles is the U.S. Army.
Recent news reports show that the army is now gearing up to perform tests of automated truck platoons. The tests will involve convoys of vehicles guided by computers being rolled out on various surfaces, such as paved or dirt roads.
Benefits of Autonomous Vehicles
For the military, autonomous vehicles could be quite helpful. They have the ability to use fuel more efficiently, reduce driver fatigue over long distances and can prevent road accidents. Preliminary tests were already conducted by the Army on 10 vehicles. The next step of the testing process involves testing the vehicles on roads in the state of Michigan. Numerous companies that supply equipment and knowledge to the military have contributed to the project, most notably Velodyne, Lockheed Martin and Panasonic.
Difference in Military Autos Versus Civilian Autos
The way the autonomous military vehicles would work differ slightly from their civilian counterparts. Instead of just inputting directions and letting the vehicle drive there, the army is focusing on automated platoons which have one vehicle at the lead being driven by a human driver. Such a technology could greatly reduce accidents in vehicle convoys, which have frequently happened in war zones such as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Vehicles of all sizes are expected to be tested by the army, from Humvees all the way to full-size tractor trailers. Rather than buying completely new vehicles, the military is expected to retrofit existing ones with the self-driving technology.
The military vehicles aren’t expected to function in automatic mode all of the time, as there are certain situations which would require human intervention. Additional testing needs to be done to determine how the vehicles would be able to perform under difficult road conditions, such as when visibility is affected by heavy rain or snow. But by automating most of the driving, the vehicle’s operator will be able to safely perform other tasks that are critical in a combat situation, such as communicating and scanning the surrounding area for threats.
Results from the road tests will give the U.S. Army important information on the performance of autonomous convoys under a variety of road conditions. This will allow them to determine which aspects of the vehicles work fine and which ones would still require some improvements before they are officially deployed. At the present moment, it is still too early to say when the military would be beginning to use self-driving convoys in the field. However, sources close to the military have suggested that they may begin operating in five years or less.