With a $50 million contract from the US Army, the University of Michigan’s Automotive Research Center (ARC) will shift its focus to autonomous technologies for military ground vehicles.
The funding extends the center’s 25-year partnership with the Army through 2024.
Since its 1994 launch, the ARC has served as a source of technology, modeling and simulation for the Army’s fleet of vehicles—the largest in the world.
In previous decades, the ARC has focused on vehicle energy and powertrain issues.
That work led to advances such as accurate modeling of soldiers and their gear to assist with vehicle design, engine designs and performance simulations, blast modeling and simulation techniques, and a better understanding of Lithium ion battery performance and design. The impacts of some of these cross over from military applications to wider use.
Going forward, the possibilities and challenges that new, autonomous technologies pose for the military will be the crux of the ARC’s work.
“Autonomy has the potential to make the most radical impact by significantly reducing the number of soldiers in harm’s way and changing the military paradigm,” said Bogdan Epureanu, ARC’s director and a U-M professor of mechanical engineering. “The next generation of autonomous vehicles will give our soldiers a position of advantage and safety—most dramatically in the last tactical mile. The potential benefits of these technologies—the systems and materials that can improve the Army’s mission capabilities—creates pressure for us to develop them quickly. And we are well-positioned to do that.”
Autonomy has the potential to make the most radical impact by significantly reducing the number of soldiers in harm’s way and changing the military paradigm.Bogdan Epureanu
The ARC’s autonomous ground vehicle systems are adaptable, capable of operating in uncontrolled environments, highly maneuverable and safe in the face of adversarial threats and limited fuel supplies. The research areas the ARC will focus on fall into five categories:
- Vehicle dynamics, control and autonomous behavior: the navigation, sensors, controls, hardware and algorithms that make up an autonomous military vehicle.
- Human-centered design and human-autonomy teaming: developing technologies to establish trust between soldiers and autonomous systems, as well as adapt to a human’s limits when dealing with large amounts of information.
- High-performance structures and materials for adaptability and enhanced mobility: developing autonomous systems that operate without the constraints of human passengers, as well as adapting new technologies for human passenger safety and comfort.
- Intelligent power systems: Developing advanced solutions for vehicles with omnivorous energy systems, as well as for meeting the power demands of new payloads and the high-level sensing and computation that autonomy requires.
- Fleet operations and vehicle systems integration: modeling and simulating efforts to create a fleet of vehicles that can be optimally controlled and quickly adapted to new missions and terrains.
The ARC also includes partner institutions Clemson University, the University of Iowa, Michigan Tech, Oakland University, Wayne State University and Virginia Tech. The center is sponsored by the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command as part of its Ground Vehicle Systems Center.
“We are excited to continue our long-standing relationship with the University of Michigan and the Automotive Research Center and we are looking forward to working with ARC to help the Army move forward with its modernization strategy,” said David Gorisch, chief scientist for the U.S. Army.
Based at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the ARC is located near the U.S.’s Big Three automakers, as well as a host of automotive supplies and technology development. Also nearby are the American Center for Mobility and the Toyota Research Institute-Ann Arbor. U-M’s campus is home to Mcity and will soon open the new $75 million Ford Motor Company Robotics Building.