SITIS Archives - Topic Details
Program:  SBIR
Topic Num:  A10-135 (Army)
Title:  High Mobility Robotic Platform with Active Articulated Suspension
Research & Technical Areas:  Ground/Sea Vehicles

Acquisition Program:  PEO Ground Combat Systems
  Objective:  The Army has a critical need for a high mobility robotic platform capable of safely and semi-autonomously transporting heavy, fragile or explosive, materials over rugged mountainous terrains.
  Description:  The robotic platform, having a gross vehicle weight under 4,000 pounds, must be configured to maintain payloads of up to 1000 pounds in a level position during transport over rough terrain. The platform must also be able to isolate the payloads from the shock and vibration effects from terrain induced mobility. The robotic platform must be capable of off-road mobility as defined by the ability to ascend/descend and move laterally across 30 degree slopes and to navigate over obstacles of at least 18 inches in height. The robotic platform must be able to navigate over a one meter gap. The mobility platform must be capable of moving at speeds of dismounted soldiers over all types of terrains (mountainous areas, paved/unpaved roads, mud, sand, concrete debris). The payload mounting area must be reconfigurable to accommodate safe transport of multiple payload types, such as wounded soldier transport or resupply items like ammunition, batteries, and tires. The robotic platform system configuration shall include on-board sensors, electronics and processors to provide guarded teleoperation, semi-autonomous and autonomous operation, as selected at and controlled by an operator control unit (OCU). The robotic platform system shall have sensors sufficient for terrain profile sensing, depth perception, object / obstruction detection/avoidance (OD/OA) and operator OCU visual and auditory situational awareness of the platform’s operational environment. A key feature of such robotic vehicles would be articulated suspension mechanisms that are dynamically controlled depending on the operational environment. This would allow for active control of payload position and to reduce the effects of rough terrain. The platform must be capable of navigating an 8 inch step at a speed of at least 8 mph while limiting the shock transmitted to the on-board electronics and payloads to a maximum of 3 g's. For extended use in the field and mission durations of 8 to 10 hours, it is critical that such a robotic platform also be highly energy efficient and able to navigate terrain and carry its payload in a manner that intelligently minimizes energy consumption throughout a mission. In order for such a vehicle to be operated quickly and efficiently, the operator should only have to specify a desired velocity vector, and the vehicle should automatically determine all control actions that most closely achieve this, including wheel/track placements and velocity, and control actions that maintain dynamic stability. The operator should not be required to specify details of how the vehicle traverses the terrain, nor should the operator be required to control individual joints in suspension linkages, or determine optimal wheel or track placements. Proposals are sought which address the following technology needs: • Platform designs featuring articulated, controlled suspensions allowing sufficient flexibility for traversal of challenging terrain. The desired mobility platforms would be large enough to support meaningful carrying capacities of 1000 pounds; but, have a gross vehicle weight under 4,000 pounds. • Vision systems that quickly and reliably produce and update terrain elevation maps for terrain in the immediate vicinity of a vehicle. • Local navigation systems that take terrain elevation maps and desired velocity vectors as inputs, and generate short-term terrain navigation plans. • Whole-body maneuver and balance control systems that are capable of executing navigation plans in the presence of significant disturbances, particularly, terrain induced disturbances.

  PHASE I: Develop a proof-of-concept active articulated suspension prototype. As part of the development, a full robotic vehicle design, models for key components, and simulation software shall be delivered to validate the overall design. The platform design should possess the following for relevancy: The robot design shall feature an active articulated suspension that would allow traversal of challenging mountainous terrain. The platform should have a gross vehicle weight under 4,000 pounds and be able to transport and maintain payloads of up to 1000 pounds in a level position during mobility operations over rough terrain and while scaling obstacles up to 18 inches in height. The active articulated suspension system should have sensors, electronics and controls to sense instantaneous terrain induced disturbances and adjust the suspension system operational characteristics to minimize payload disturbances. The platform should possess the capability to quickly & reliably produce & update terrain elevation maps for terrain in immediate vicinity of robotic platform and generate terrain navigation plans. The robotic platform should possess whole-body maneuver & balance control systems capable of executing navigation plans in presence of significant terrain induced disturbances.
  PHASE II: Using the Phase I design requirements and technical documentation, the contractor shall fully develop, fabricate and deliver a prototype of the robotic platform with active articulated suspension. The developed robot shall provide a highly maneuverable robotic mobility platform with adaptable on-the-fly active articulated suspension system to support operations in mountainous terrains. The robot shall be capable of sensing the operational terrain and instantaneously adjust the suspension system operational characteristics to mitigate on-board terrain induced disturbances. The platform should have a gross vehicle weight under 4,000 pounds and be able to transport and maintain payloads of up to 1000 pounds in a level position during mobility operations over rough terrain and while scaling obstacles up to 18 inches in height. The robotic platform must be capable of off-road mobility as defined by the ability to ascend/descend and move laterally across 30 degree slopes. The robotic platform must be able to navigate over a one meter gap. The payload mounting area must be reconfigurable to accommodate safe transport of multiple payload types, such as wounded soldier transport or resupply items like ammunition, batteries, and tires. The robotic platform system configuration shall include on-board sensors, electronics and processors to provide guarded teleoperation, semi-autonomous and autonomous operation, as selected at and controlled by an operator control unit (OCU). The robotic platform system shall have sensors sufficient for terrain profile sensing, depth perception, object / obstruction detection and operator OCU visual and auditory situational awareness of the platform’s operational environment. Once constructed, the contractor shall provide manpower and materials support to a performance validation test that will be conducted to test the developed robot against the requirements in a relevant military operational environment.

  PHASE III: The robotic mobility platform sought here would find significant use in commercial markets where there is a need to assist humans with movement of heavy objects in unstructured environments. Such markets include construction, delivery, warehousing, agriculture, and mining. The first responder community could utilize this robotic platform for urban search and rescue missions, which might require personnel extraction or operations in hazardous areas. Construction equipment manufacturers may also be interested, specifically in mining type applications where rugged terrains must be traversed to extract heavy material. The off-road ATV community is another candidate that may seek to benefit from the development of this technology.

  References:  agnemma K. and Rzepniewski, A. and Dubowsky, S. and Schenker, P.“Control of robotic vehicles with actively articulated suspensions in rough terrain”Autonomous Robots. Vol 1 2003 4: 5-16. "Control Improvements for Low Impedance Bipedal Walking Robots" Pratt, G. A., Hofmann, A. G., Willisson, P., Bolton, C. American Controls Conference, Boston, MA, June 2004 Iagnemma, K. and Dubowsky, S. Mobile Robots in Rough Terrain. Springer, 2004.

Keywords:  Articulated suspension, intelligent robotic mobility, inherent stable mobility, articulation, tracks, wheels, intelligent locomotion, unmanned ground vehicle, rugged terrain mobility

Questions and Answers:
Q: Additional Q&A from TPOC - SBIR Topic A10-135:

1. Topic appears very challenging. What does government perceive as primary technology focus areas?
Answer: Control theory & active articulated suspension developed to meet the terrain mobility performance requirements (i.e., ascend/descend & move laterally across 30 degree slope, navigate over obstacles of 18 inches in height & navigate over one meter gap),while isolating both payload & on-board electronics from terrain induced shocks & vibrations and maintaining the payload level.

2. Can this be accomplished within the available funding level for a phase I & II SBIR program?
Answer: Try not to design a platform and/or platform subsystems from the ground up; but look for commercial platforms & subsystems that could be modified & integrated to accomplish the SBIR requirements. Possible platforms could be ATVs or vehicles produced by the extreme motor sports industry that have drive-by-wire controls. Active suspensions have been developed for commercial & military vehicles. Commercial sources are also available for teleoperation controls & emergency stop systems. Leverage commercially available hardware & technology, so the SBIR R&D focus can be on the active articulated suspension and control theory design & development.

3. Are there mission duration & noise emission requirements?
Answer: No; Mainly because of the above mentioned primary technology focus areas and the phase II requirement to deliver a concept demonstrator platform that can achieve the stated mobility, payload isolation & over-arching control capabilities. Right or wrong, I viewed this topic’s effort as a modification of an existing platform program, rather than a from-scratch design effort. Use of a commercially available drive-by-wire platform would create a clear commercialization strategy for proposing organizations. In regards to the question, such commercially available platforms would already have established mission duration & noise emission capabilities that meet customer or regulatory requirements.

4. Is there a cubic volume requirement for the payload area?
Answer: The volume will vary based on payload type, wounded soldier, ammunition, batteries & tires. Payload weight of 1000 pounds is required. Estimate required volume by the approximate volume of 1000 pounds of the various payload types. The payload reconfiguration requirement is meant to assure safe transport of each payload type; greatest concern is to prevent payload movement in the payload area from inertial / centrifugal forces, since shock & vibration isolation is already a stated requirement.

5. What is meant by “open source” in the Phase II requirement “The platform OCU and low-level controller’s interface control & control signals shall be open source?”
Answer: The government wants delivery of the interface control documentation for the OCU & low-level controller to further advance control capabilities under follow-on programs. All software code delivered would be subject to the SBIR contract’s government usage rights.

6. Teleoperation can be simple, line-of-sight (LOS), to complex non-line-of-sight (NLOS), as well as have varying levels of sophistication. Are there any requirements for the phase II teleoperation capabilities?
Answer: The teleoperation and emergency e-stop are required to safely assess the delivered phase II platform’s performance capabilities. The delivered teleoperation system must be sufficient to assure safe standoff distance between the operator & the platform; assuring both the safety of the operator and safe operation of the high mobility platform.
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