In a recent demo at a Fort Hood training area, the U.S. Army Tank and Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center unveiled the latest technology in unmanned military vehicles, according to a press release on the group's website.

During the demonstration, two driverless vehicles worked through training ground streets covered with obstacles and oncoming traffic to effectively work with another manned vehicle within a convoy. At the same time, the vehicles followed the rules of the road, avoided pedestrians and managed to change routes several times to showcase the technology's decision-making capabilities and precision. Exhibiting advanced autonomous features, the new technology could present a future method of keeping soldiers out of dangerous locations while completing supply missions and other tasks.

Unmanned vehicles make a debut in the near future
Although the technology is still in testing phases, TARDEC is well on its way to producing independent unmanned vehicles on schedule. The group has set a national date to release a series of driverless vehicles as part of the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System. That equipment is set to be introduced in 2025, according to Military Times. However, TARDEC Director Paul Rogers believes the driver assist technology could be released for military personnel by next year, and that vehicles could be traveling without soldiers behind the wheel within three years.

The technology still needs a lot of work before it can make a debut on the battlefield. According to Military Times, the equipment uses advanced radar and lidar systems to pinpoint oncoming traffic, and obstacles and read the surface of the road and painted lines. Using a pre-programmed system, coordinates can be punched in and a specific route can be followed by the vehicles, or they can be programmed to follow other manned vehicles within a convoy.

In a controlled environment, the systems work very well, but the unmanned vehicles are unready for other areas.

"In a military or unstructured environment, the challenge becomes much more significant," Rogers said, according to Military Times. "We're looking at how to make our systems robust so that they're able to operate in more of these unstructured environments."

Reportedly the vehicles cannot complete more complicated street maneuvers and have not fully passed exercises that require backing up or K-turns, but the technology's developers remain optimistic.

"We are very happy with the results, but the AMAS must undergo more testing before it becomes deployable," Bernard Theisen, TARDEC's lead AMAS engineer, said on the group's website.

Keeping soldiers out of harm's way but still in the field
According to TARDEC officials, the aim of the AMAS is not to replace soldiers. Instead, allowing the vehicles to operate themselves will give soldiers more leeway to work in a defensive capacity in convoys or to complete other tasks while in route to destinations. The system is intended to increase the capability of the vehicles and allow soldiers to retain more situational awareness or operate from a safer distance in particularly dangerous locations. Additionally, taking soldiers out of particular vehicles can help reduce vehicle weight by stripping vehicles of armor, allowing for greater mobility. Ultimately, equipping convoys with unmanned vehicles could drastically improve the performance and effectiveness of soldiers.