Along side the MAARS was another interesting robotic vehicle called GUSS, the Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate. The team shown included (from left to right) Jesse Hurdus, Torc; Alfred Wicks, Virginia Tech; and Capt. Tim Bove, Marine Corp. Warfighting Laboratory. On first appearances, GUSS looks like a Polaris jeep equipped with antennae and sensors. The units are here for the Marines who are prepared to put GUSS through its paces as part of this month's RIMPAC exercise. GUSS is primarily a support vehicle and is meant to carry gear or wounded personnel as a way to reduce the load from the ground troops. It can travel unmanned along rural unpaved roads, pre-programmed to follow a specified route, at about the pace of a foot soldier. Talking to the team, it was clear GUSS was not meant to be all things to all people. It is not an all terrain vehicle, it does not work well in heavy foliage and its not sophisticated like a Mars Rover (and it costs a lot less.) It is based on a modular design and the building blocks use off the shelf technologies which enabled rapid prototyping. The team then focuses on the integration challenges. The development cycle was less than a year and manufacturing of the units took about 6 months. All four of the development models are here for the exercises. I found it interesting how these entities, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, Marine Corp Warfighting Laboratory, Virginia Tech and Torc worked together to produce GUSS. Funding came through the Department of Defense (Dahlgren) to the Warfighting Lab which then developed the specification for the autonomous vehicle. Virginia Tech is leveraged for their programming and mechanical engineering expertise. Finally Torc is hired to build the units. Seems like a viable partnership between DOD, University and a commercial company. Keep in mind Torc is not a vendor providing this directly to the military. GUSS is still in prototype. If the military decides to deploy these units, they will then go out to bid for production. Any limitations in GUSS' performance will be identified in these RIMPAC exercises and the team will qualify what needs to be done next.
In addition to the "big iron" being used in RIMPAC exercises, there are examples of "little iron" robots being field tested to protect and support the ground forces. I got a chance to see a couple of them this past weekend. Shown in the photo is the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS) unit manufactured by Qinetiq. This system packs a M240B medium machine gun along with a spotting scope, an infrared scope and viewing cameras for a 360 degree field of view. The model I saw demonstrated did not have a gun mounted to it. The unit also has rubberized tractor treads making it suitable for rocky terrain. Field engineer Rich Leemon did tell me that it wasn't all-terrain. The MAARS robot is best suited for unpaved rural roads. MAARS is operated by remote control from a suitcase system or from a wearable controller, as modeled here by Jasmine Guevara, PACOM public affairs. The Bellows Marine Corp Training Area where the exercise took place was made up to appear like an Afghani village. You can see the flag on the building and the men in the foreground behind MAARS are role players brought in from San Francisco. Evaluators of the MAARS looked for system vulnerabilities and operational effectiveness by Marines controlling the units in a free play exercise. The MAARS units run about $350K each and are still in the evaluation stage. In this video Rich Leemon explains the general operations of the MAARS as he guides it back onto the truck. Next up is GUSS.