HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Two Hanscom teams are helping to build the “base of the future” by integrating an exciting new force protection technology at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
Teams within the Force Protection and Special Programs Divisions, both headquartered here, supplied and integrated the 325th Security Forces Squadron with four prototype Quad-legged Unmanned Ground Vehicles, sometimes referred to as ‘robotic dogs,’ in March.
They are semi-autonomous robots that can provide surveillance and perimeter security in difficult terrain or in harsh or unsafe conditions.
“The Air Force is really trying to look beyond traditional technologies and vendors in how we are satisfying our base protection requirements,” said Maj. Jareth Lamb, chief, Force Protection Modernization Branch. “This is just one of the ways we’ve been getting after innovation in the force protection space.”
Designed by Ghost Robotics, these Vision 60 model robots are outfitted with 14 sensors and will be integrated with the Immersive Wisdom-developed command and control software Vanguard, using semi-autonomous and user-operated modes. The prototypes are equipped with advanced multi-directional, thermal, and infrared video capabilities, allowing for artificial intelligence-based threat detection.
“People see these robots out walking around and they think this is a fieldable capability, but there is still a lot of development, testing and evaluation that still needs to be done,” said Johanna Lewis, program manager, Special Programs Division. “Having them just walk around is not what we’re after. We want them to patrol the base using their integrated sensors to provide our forces in the base security operations center with useful, mission-critical data.”
What sets these units apart is their ability to integrate additional advanced technology, like A.I.-based acoustic sensors, said Lewis. This would allow them to make decisions based on changes in the environments, such as the presence of humans or perceived threats.
Despite the broad range of complex technology outfitted on the robots, experts say the user interface is actually quite simple to operate.
“The command and control of these is actually pretty intuitive,” said Lamb. “They come with a control pad and joystick, so for anyone who’s ever played a video game before, you can easily pick it up and be able to control the full range of capabilities on these robots with minimal training.”
The Hanscom teams are currently providing program management, engineering support, contracting, and test and evaluation support to help determine the full range of capabilities of the robots, as well as determining training requirements.
“It’s our responsibility to find out where the boundaries of these units are and if we can push those boundaries,” said Lewis. “We need to determine the full scope of how well they work, and how easy they are to maintain. These units at Tyndall are the first to be deployed and installed, so we have to do our due diligence and thoroughly test them.”
Although early in the test and evaluation process, Lamb believes that A.I.-enabled robots and similar technology could be a force multiplier with broad application Air Force-wide.
“The sky is the limit,” he said. “If these ‘dogs’ can assist our forces in the field or in an expeditionary response capacity, I think that’s a win. But it’s still early. This is the first time that we’ve explored this type of technology, so there’s a lot we’re still learning. I think we’re really just scratching the surface about how we can leverage this exciting capability.”
The Special Programs Division first highlighted the dogs last year at the Air Force’s second Advanced Battle Management System onramp exercise, which ran from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
According to Lewis, testing of the prototypes at Tyndall will continue through the fall.
Her team issued a $1 million task order for the Tyndall effort under an indefinite quantity, indefinite delivery contract with Immersive Wisdom. The task order is set to expire Sept. 30, but they are considering an agreement to extend that timeline, said Lewis.
Click here to see a video of the robotic systems in action at Tyndall.
The Force Protection Modernization Branch is a branch of the Force Protection Division within the Digital Directorate, headquartered here at Hanscom. The Special Programs Division is a division within the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorate, also headquartered here.