US Military Paper Offers Insights on Energy-Efficient Robots

A military research paper published in April provided new insights on how to build energy-efficient, autonomous “legged” robots for the armed forces.

Researchers from the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Army Research Laboratory have found a way to design robotic, ground-mobile systems — particularly legged robots commonly considered inefficient — to operate efficiently off-road for defense.

“If vehicle developers find a certain design would require more power than is currently possible given a variety of real-world constraints, the new formula could point to specific needs for improved power transmission and generation, or to rethink the mass and speed requirements of the vehicle,” researcher Dr. Sean Gart said.

The team, composed of Gart, Dr. Alexander Kott, and Dr. Jason Pusey, was inspired by a 1980s Heglund formula that shows the “consistent regularity of relation among mass, power, and speed” among “ground-mobile animals.”

Navigating Complex Terrain

The team believes they are the first to assemble and study the relationships that emerge from this data, showing how legged systems are as efficient as wheeled and tracked platforms on complex terrains such as dense forests, rocky plains, and mountain trails.

“In the world of unmanned combat aerial vehicle and intelligent munitions, there is a growing role for dismounted infantry that can advance, often for multiple days, and attack in the most cluttered terrain such as mountains, dense forests and urban environments,” Kott said.

“That’s because such terrain provides the greatest cover and concealment against the unmanned aerial vehicles. That, in turn, demands that dismounted infantry should be assisted by vehicles capable of moving easily in such a broken terrain. Legged vehicles – possibly autonomous – would be very helpful,” he explained.

These findings are expected to help develop new types of autonomous, or partly autonomous, ground vehicles that can be used to deliver supplies to soldiers in challenging terrain.

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