The US Army has announced plans to increase the autonomy of its Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs). “We are moving along that spectrum from tele-operating to semi-autonomy where you can send a robot from point A to point B without any intervention,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Thompson, project manager with the Robotic Systems Joint Program Office.
Tele-operation, the most widespread method currently employed for control of unmanned systems, relies solely on a human operator’s cognitive abilities to navigate in extremely dynamic and complex environments. Increased autonomy requires that unmanned systems adopt similar cognitive capacities, including greater situational awareness. Situational awareness can be regarded as involving three-stages:
In Stage One, a UGV receives the visual image of an object. During Stage Two, the UGV decides what the object is. Is it a rock, a bomb, or a child? In this example, let’s say it’s a rock. In Stage Three, the UGV plans whether or not to go over the rock or around it as well as what mechanical operations are necessary to complete this task.In general, tele-operation relies on the situational awareness of the human operator, and assumes zero situational awareness and autonomy for the unmanned system. At the other end of the spectrum, a fully autonomous robot will have highly developed situational awareness, while the human operator, in theory, will require correspondingly less.
In practice this relationship is more complex. The situational awareness of the human operator and unmanned system can be interdependent, while the level of a robot’s autonomy may fluctuate during any given mission. Furthermore, the nature and level of human interaction will be dictated by the operator’s confidence in the unmanned system’s situational awareness, as well as the reliability of the information it provides.
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