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DARPA Completes First Phase of RACER Unmanned Combat Vehicle Program

DARPA has completed the first phase of its Robotic Autonomy in Complex Environments with Resiliency (RACER) unmanned combat vehicle program in the Mojave Desert, California.

The phase concluded with a third assessment of the RACER fleet, in which they were deployed without human intervention from the US Army’s National Training Center in Fort Irwin.

The vehicles were chased by a separate system driven by a safety operator to demonstrate their autonomous combat movement throughout mission-specific scenarios.

The test validated the RACER fleet’s operability in off-road terrains that are “more unpredictable” compared to roadway environments. Obstacles included ditches, rocks, bushes, and trees.

During the trial, the fleet achieved over 55 driverless deployments. Each vehicle covered between 4 to 11 miles (6 to 16 kilometers) at 25 miles (40 kilometers) per hour.

“At Experiment Three, we successfully demonstrated significant improvements in our off-road speeds while simultaneously reducing any interaction with the vehicle during test runs,” RACER Program Manager Stuart Young stated.

Pushing the Limits

The RACER vehicles were screened by experts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Washington.

Meanwhile, the US Army Research Laboratory demonstrated the RACER autonomy software’s flexibility with military applications.

“We provided the performers RACER fleet vehicles with common performance, sensing, and compute. This enables us to evaluate the performance of the performer team autonomy software in similar environments and compare it to human performance,” Young said.

“During this latest experiment, we continued to push vehicle limits in perceiving the environments to greater distances, enabling further increase in speeds and better adaptation to newly encountered environmental conditions that will continue into RACER’s next phase.”

The RACER program’s next phase will focus on improving the unmanned vehicle’s software and its autonomous maneuverability throughout longer off-road courses.

This stage will require speeds twice the initial phase’s performance metrics and involve large, combat-scale demonstrations.

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