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by Sean Killcarr, in Trucks at Work

oshkoshEurope this week is going to get a look at Oshkosh Corp.’s most recent iteration of its TerraMax unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) technology – a system that will allow for remote-control operation of Oshkosh mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) all-terrain vehicle (M-ATV) during the Eurosatory 2014 defense industry convention.

“In today’s conflicts, the frontlines have been blurred and troops carrying out logistics missions are exposed to improvised explosive devices and other lethal threats previously reserved for battle zones,” noted John Urias, an executive VP at Oshkosh, president of its Oshkosh Defense division, and a retired U.S. Army Major General, in a statement.

“Vehicles equipped with TerraMax UGV can be used in concert with manned vehicles for a spectrum of operations including logistics convoys, route clearance and counter-IED missions, airfield construction and support, and more,” he explained.

“This technology allows vehicles to operate for extended periods of time through challenging terrain, dust, darkness, rain, snow and other adverse conditions without the fatigue or loss of awareness that can afflict human operators,” Urias added. “This capability really forces us to think differently about how we conduct certain ground operations.”

The particular M-ATV being demonstrated at Eurosatory this week is a “mine-roller” truck, one designed to detect and detonate mines well in advance of truck convoys. But Oshkosh’s TerraMax UGV system is also being used to pilot cargo trucks, fuel haulers, and other military configurations as well, as the video clip below shows.

Oshkosh noted it is conducting TerraMax UGV product development independently and also in collaboration with the U.S. Marine Corps and Army to identify opportunities to use UGVs for route reconnaissance and route clearance missions. This project is also looking at how such technology can be retrofitted onto older truck models to help cut down the costs of getting robot trucks out into the field.

The OEM also noted that those current projects build upon previous contracts with the U.S. Office of Naval Research for the Cargo UGV Project, which focused on bringing UGV capabilities to logistics convoy missions and reducing troops’ exposure to threats.

[FYI Oshkosh noted that the current “phase of work” on the Cargo UGV project will culminate in a technology concept demonstration in 2015.]

So what has any of this to do with every-day over-the-road civilian freight carriers in the U.S.? First of all, there’s quite a bit of talk about how driverless vehicle technology – which is not necessarily welcomed in all corners of the motor vehicle world, by the way – could help solve the ever-present truck drive shortage.

There are caveats to that issue, however, as it might add to the challenges of recruiting younger drivers if they know they’ll be replaced by a machine in a robotdecade or so – something Sandeep Kar touched on near the end of this recent story about the increasing importance of total cost of operation or TCO calculations for improving the industry’s bottom line.

Still, the new flexibility of Oshkosh’s TerraMax UGV package – a modular, multi-sensor kit that can be tightly integrated into new production vehicles or retrofitted onto legacy vehicle platforms – and it’s improving ability to “seamlessly collaborate” with manned vehicles across varying terrains and in all weather conditions, day or night, is a capability civilian truckers might want to keep an eye on, especially as it’s supposedly very easy to use.

Oshkosk notes that its operator control unit (OCU) enables a single operator to supervise multiple autonomous vehicles – as well as provide follower vehicles with over-the-horizon “situational awareness” – all via a widely adopted non-proprietary open architecture messaging standard that enables modularity and easy integration of new subsystems.

That basically means anyone with half-way decent understanding of computer systems should be able to learn how to operate such trucks.

Will such vehicles ultimately replace truck drivers piloting big rigs here in the U.S.? That remains to be seen. But as it’s getting hard and hard to recruit them, no doubt lots of folks will be examining thep possibilities of such technology closely.

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