Oshkosh, Wis. — Despite being forced to idle in the Nevada desert all night, the unmanned TerraMax vehicle developed by Oshkosh Truck Corp. and several partners completed a 132-mile course over the weekend in a government sponsored race to advance computer-controlled vehicle technology.
The TerraMax team was assigned a starting time more than two hours behind the first vehicle, and was “paused” numerous times by military officials to accommodate disabled or slower moving vehicles on the course, the company said. As a result, daylight ended before TerraMax could complete the course on the first day. Even though TerraMax was capable of operating autonomously in the dark, race officials paused it in the middle of the desert until daybreak for the safety of the chase vehicle drivers.
DARPA sponsors race
The race, dubbed the Great Challenge, was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense’s think tank for future technology — the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
About five miles from the course’s end, the eight-foot-wide TerraMax defense truck passed through Beer Bottle Pass, with just inches to spare between its bumper and a 200-foot sheer cliff. TerraMax was the largest and widest vehicle to navigate the narrow mountain road, demonstrating the precision of the vehicle’s numerous sensing systems, according to officials at Oshkosh Truck.
“This was a remarkable day for Team TerraMax, for our nation’s military, and for the history books,” said Robert G. Bohn, Oshkosh Truck chairman, president and chief executive officer. “DARPA’s goal is to help take our troops out of harm’s way by fostering development of unmanned vehicles. Completing the race spectacularly indicates how close we may be to making this a reality.”
Company learned much
Developing TerraMax was rewarding from a research perspective, said Don Verhoff, Oshkosh executive vice president of corporate engineering and technology.
“We gained immense knowledge regarding autonomous vehicle technologies that are viable in the rigorous military environment, and we are committed to moving this technology forward to aid the men and women of the U.S. military,” Verhoff said.
TerraMax’s autonomous systems were optimized for a more difficult environment than it faced on the racecourse selected by DARPA. “We decided in the beginning that we would design this vehicle to autonomously handle real off-road terrain, actively detect and navigate around obstacles, and maintain a high-level of confidence in vehicle safety,” said Scott Uhlir, Rockwell Collins principal program manager for advanced programs. “While our race time could have been improved significantly by altering these parameters, we finished the race believing that we are that much closer to providing a real-world solution.”
Challenge posed three years ago
Three years ago, DARPA challenged robotics experts from across the country to develop an autonomous, driverless vehicle that could traverse a rugged, off-road desert course. After no vehicle completed last year’s 150-mile DARPA Grand Challenge, 195 teams entered the competition this year. Three levels of qualifying events narrowed the final field to 23.
TerraMax is a MTVR (Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement) that Oshkosh Truck designed for the U.S. Marine Corps. It has a 15-ton on-road and 7.1-ton off-road payload capacity. The MTVR is a 6×6 cargo hauler with Oshkosh Truck’s patented TAK-4 independent suspension system to accommodate its 70 percent off-road profile. There are more than 6,000 Oshkosh MTVRs deployed with the U.S. Marine Corps, and more than 1,500 operating in the Iraq conflict.
TerraMax’s navigational systems were designed and integrated by Rockwell Collins and enhanced with a stereo-vision navigation system developed by the Vision Labs at the University of Parma.
See previous WTN coverage of the DARPA race here:
• Oshkosh’s robotic truck qualifies for DARPA challenge
• Oshkosh Truck teams with OSU to compete in DARPA million dollar tech derby