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EDA project highlights potential of hybrid manned-unmanned platooning

A collaborative research project on ‘Hybrid Manned Unmanned Platooning (Hy-MUP)’ has just been successfully completed at the European Defence Agency (EDA). The main aim was to prove that it is feasible to coordinate and operate unmanned ground systems together with regular manned vehicles in future mounted combat missions. It also helped the military community to become familiar with heavy unmanned ground vehicles.

The Hy-MUP project was funded by the two contributing Member States - France and Germany - and carried out by a consortium consisting of ECA Robotics and Thales for France as well as Diehl BGT Defence and Rheinmetall Landsysteme for Germany. The Hy-MUP project was in fact a continuation of a previous project on ‘Semi-Autonomous Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SAM-UGV)’ conducted by the same consortium. Both projects were hosted in the EDA CapTech Ground Systems (Land).

The project’s objectives were to: (i) prove the feasibility of the operation of unmanned ground systems in coordination with regular manned vehicles in future mounted combat missions by analysing and defining use-cases for platooning, (ii) identify the high safety requirements and (iii) develop a demonstrator of a hybrid fleet (manned and unmanned vehicles) to be deployed in convoy reconnaissance and/or surveillance (platooning) missions with a mobile Control and Command Vehicle (CCV) manned driven and an mobile robotized vehicle which can either be tele-operated by an operator from the Control Station installed in the CCV or configured to follow a Leader Vehicle autonomously.

In addition to that, from the military perspective, another project goal was to help the military community to become familiar with heavy unmanned ground vehicles by progressively introducing heavy robotics in the Armed Forces.

Different ‘Leader Following’ functionalities

For the practical part of the project, various case scenarios for using mixed platoons of manned and unmanned vehicles were defined and demonstrated. The Control Station and the communication unit were installed in a Control and Command Vehicle lent by the French MoD. A 4x4 wheels drive civilian vehicle (ISUZU D-MAX) was then equipped with a Drive by Wire capability (including a Drive By Wire (DBW) kit from Paravan and a Robotic kit updated from the SAM-UGV project), several sensors enabling autonomous motion by using ‘Leader Following’ facilities. An additional communication unit enables tele-operation via control station.

Two different ‘Leader Following’ functionalities were implemented and evaluated during trials with various Leader Vehicles, various weather conditions and various environments:

  • The first Leader Following functionality runs two algorithms in parallel: (i) one uses the centre vision camera and (ii) the other uses the information coming from a Velodyne - 3D LiDAR sensor. In case one of the algorithms loses the leader, the other can reinitialize the connection of the first one.
  • The second Leader Following functionality combines the data coming from an algorithm using vision camera mounted on Hy-MUP robotized platform and a sign panel installed at the rear of the Leader Vehicle, on one hand, and an algorithm using information from a Velodyne - 3D LiDAR sensor, on the other hand.

An ‘Obstacle Avoidance’ function which, in real operations, is required to avoid intruders or collisions (with pedestrian or vehicles) was also tested but could not be fully evaluated during the trials due to project constraints.

The Hy-MUP project developed the so-called ‘Hy-MUP system’: it consists of an integrated demonstrator with a Control Station (installed in a manned vehicle of the convoy) and a robotized platform. Teleoperation and autonomous Vehicle Following are available from a moving Control Station. Obstacle Avoidance will have to be further integrated and evaluated.

Even though the Hy-MUP system is not yet fully completed and validated, it nevertheless already demonstrated the benefits and importance of manned/unmanned vehicle convoy capabilities in military operations.