The 21st century will see the dawn of intelligent systems. The 19th century gave rise to advanced mechanical systems, and the 20th century to electro-mechanical systems. The information age will feature more than a proliferation of information – it will mark the advent of autonomous intelligent machines, such as robotic air, ground, and sea vehicles for military and civil applications, and ubiquitous intelligence embedded in commonplace objects. The U.S. Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) will replace conventional battlefield weapons, such as tanks and artillery, with robotic platforms. The Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) will replace manned combat aircraft. The Intelligent Vehicle Initiative (IVI) of the Department of Transportation will lead to the driverless car and truck. Aside from the impact of intelligent systems on the military, they will have a profound impact on the U.S. and global economy. The improvement in industrial and service sector productivity will exceed that of the industrial and electronics ages. The wealth of the world will increase exponentially again, benefiting the poor nations as well as the rich.
The CTSM activities in this area are conducted at the Intelligent Systems Laboratory (ISL) that was established in 2003 in collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), along with a number of companies in the vicinity focused on robotics and intelligent systems. The ISL was funded by Robotic Technology, Inc. (RTI) to prototype the EATR system. The concept of the EATR was sponsored as a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The project is advancing toward Phase II Enhancement and Phase III Commercialization with assistance from our Teaming Partners, Elbit Systems of America and the Boeing Corporation; additional Teaming Partners will be joining soon. The purpose of the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR)™ (patent pending by RTI) project is to develop and demonstrate an autonomous robotic platform able to perform long-range, long-endurance missions without the need for manual or conventional re-fueling, which would otherwise preclude the ability of the robot to perform such missions. The system obtains its energy by foraging – engaging in biologically-inspired, organism-like, energy-harvesting behavior which is the equivalent of eating. It can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable. In addition to missions requiring long-range, long-endurance ability, the EATR can provide direct support to combat units without requiring labor or materiel logistics support for refueling. EATR could forage for its own energy while the unit rested or remained in position. EATR, having a heavy-duty robotic arm and hybrid external combustion engine, could provide direct support to combat units by: carrying the unit’s backpacks and other materiel (the mule function); provide RSTA, weapons, support, casualty extraction, or transport; provide energy to recharge the unit’s batteries or directly power command and control centers. This demonstration project can lead to three potential Phase III commercialization projects: (1) the development of prototype and operational EATR™ systems for military and civil applications; (2) new civil and military applications for the autonomous intelligent control system; and (3) development of the hybrid external combustion engine system for civil and military automotive applications, whether for manned or unmanned vehicles.