When it comes to robotic warriors, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) get all the attention, but I find unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) more interesting. For one thing, UGVs are more varied, with implementations ranging from modified Humvees to legged robots like those from Boston Dynamics (Figure 1). UGV missions are also highly varied, including bomb detection and disposal, ferrying supplies, and search and rescue.
Figure 1. UGVs range from modified Humvees to legged robots.
UGVs are also interesting from a computational perspective. These vehicles are exposed to a wide range of attacks, and must respond with payloads such as Improvised Explosive Detection (IED) detection. In addition, UGVs must navigate complex environments that may include rugged terrain; buildings and vehicles; and people engaged in a variety of activities. Thus, autonomous UGVs require sophisticated situational awareness, including object detection and avoidance algorithms.
Meeting these computational demands requires a thoughtful, multi-pronged approach. ADLINK, a Premier member of the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance (Intel® IoT Solutions Alliance), recently published an excellent white paper detailing these needs and proposing solutions. The paper is organized around the Unmanned Ground Systems Roadmap created by the US Army’s Robotics Systems Joint Project Office (RS JPO). This roadmap lays out a functional plan for multiple types of UGVs, including multiple classes of vehicles and unmanned ground vehicle platforms.
I was particularly interested in the description of the Convoy Active Safety Technology (CAST) program. As illustrated in Figure 2, this program strives for autonomous operation through a combination of “kits” that cover multiple sensors, onboard processing, drive-by-wire functionality, and additional payload control. Here’s how the ADLINK paper describes it:
This Autonomous Mobility Applique System (AMAS) is in the form of an add-on or appliqué retrofit kit to virtually any existing manned vehicle, permitting a wide range of autonomous behavior. Capabilities range from remote operation to driver assist to fully autonomous driving and navigation. The AMAS will be produced using a common open architecture and delivered in multi-kit form: an “A-Kit,” which is the universal brain; a “B-Kit,” which contains the vehicle-specific sensors, aggregation and connectors; and the “C-Kit,” which is oriented toward payload management. With the AMAS, more processing means more autonomous capability; to meet the scale of expected demand, the kits should be delivered in a smaller, standard footprint and take advantage of standardized connections, lowering system costs.
Figure 2. AMAS technology incorporates several “kits”.
Several key points stand out to me. First, each of these kits presents a different set of computational requirements. In fact, there can be highly varied computational loads within the same kit. For example, the “A” kit encompasses both environmental sensing (which involves streaming, high-bandwidth sensor data) and autonomy computing (which entails iterative decision-making processes).
Second, we are only at the beginning of UGVs deployments, and these vehicles are likely to see field services lasting decades. Thus, UGV compute systems should be designed for future upgradability to meet evolving requirements. Not surprisingly, this has led the RS JPO to include an interoperability Initiative (currently at IOP v.0) in its roadmap with a goal of achieving a common, standards-based architecture for UGV computing.
Finally, as in many defense applications, there is a strong push for UGV compute systems to minimize size, weight, and power (SWAP).
In my view, these factors add up to a strong case for commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware based on Intel® processors. These solutions can deliver the latest compute hardware, helping developers meet intense processing demands while minimizing SWAP. They come in a variety of form factors and support a wide range of heterogeneous processing architectures, allowing developers to handle highly differentiated workloads. And because COTS solutions are based on existing mil/aero standards, they support the goal of a common UGV architecture.
One good example of these COTS systems is the ADLINK CT-3510 3U CompactPCI blade, illustrated in Figure 3. Based on the latest 4th generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor, this conduction-cooled blade is highly ruggedized and equipped with up to 8 GB of error-correcting code (ECC) memory for high reliability in mission critical applications. A gigabit Ethernet (GbE) port on the faceplate supports Intel® Advanced Management Technology 9.0 (Intel® AMT 9.0) for remote monitoring and repair – a handy feature for UGVs operating far from support personnel.
Figure 3. The ADLINK CT-3510 offers the latest tech.
Another good example is the VR E1x/msd 6U VPX board (Figure 4) from Concurrent Technologies, an Affiliate member of the Alliance. This board sports a dual- or quad-core 4th generation Intel® Core™ processor and up to 32 Gbytes of DDR3L-1600 ECC DRAM. Features include two XMC/PMC sites, optional on-board 2.5-inch drive, CompactFlash®, and various I/O. The board is available in two versions: VPX-REDI Type 1 air-cooled and Type 2 conduction-cooled.
Figure 4. The Concurrent Technologies VR E1x/msd is available in VPX-REDI Type 1 or Type 2 versions.
As a final example, consider the XCOM-6400 COM Express* Type 6 module (Figure 5) from General member Acromag. This basic size platform (95 x 125mm) is available with 4th generation Intel® Core™ i7 or i5 processors with extended temperature support. The extra-rigid board implements a SODIMM hold down mechanism for excellent for shock and vibration performance without soldering. The XCOM-6400 also provides a heat sink capability and conduction-cooled rails not available on traditional COM Express designs.
Figure 5. The Acromag XCOM-6400 offers unusual ruggedization features.
As UGVs gain traction – and in some cases, literally gain legs – I am confident that solutions like these will play a key role in enabling next-generation missions. I expect to revisit this space as the roadmaps and standards for UGVs continue to evolve.
Contact featured members:
Solutions in this blog:
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® IoT Solutions Alliance
Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine
Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston