By Rick Robinson
The Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) has won a contract to support development of a roadmap designed to improve the testing and evaluation of unmanned and autonomous systems for the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).
“The field of unmanned and autonomous systems is evolving rapidly, and new techniques are needed to effectively test and evaluate the capabilities that are being inserted into these systems. This is especially challenging for systems that are increasing in levels of autonomy,” said Lora Weiss, a GTRI principal research engineer. “Our task is to develop a roadmap that identifies new approaches to testing autonomous systems and details what needs to be tested, how the autonomous technologies can be tested, and when the testing needs to occur.”
Known as the Roadmap Development and Technology Insertion Plan (RD-TIP), the one-year $430,000 award is funded through the U.S. Army at White Sands Missile Range. The initiative is headed by Derrick Hinton, T&E/S&T program manager with the Test Resources Management Center in the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Many new technologies are being developed for unmanned and autonomous systems that must be tested and evaluated before they can be deployed. New approaches are needed for testing and measuring the robustness of these systems, especially in non-deterministic and evolving environments,” Weiss noted. “The only way to know how to test them is to understand both the details of the technology and the system that it is going into. GTRI has extensive experience in both areas and can uniquely couple fundamental research with warfighter systems.”
The effort will address all five major unmanned and autonomous systems domains, including systems that operate in the air, on the ground, underwater, on the sea surface and in space. The roadmap will address both vehicles and the socio-technical environments in which they operate.
“There is a strong desire from the warfighter to get these systems into the field,” Weiss added. “This, coupled with the rapid pace at which unmanned and autonomous systems are developing, creates a need to consider new options for more flexible testing of unmanned systems.
Through this roadmap, the government has asked us to help define these options.”
Test and evaluation has traditionally been a focus area for GTRI, noted Rusty Roberts, a principal research engineer who oversees all of GTRI’s test and evaluation programs. “The current roadmap award builds on GTRI’s long-term experience with test and evaluation for government customers and couples it with GTRI’s strong knowledge of unmanned systems,” he said.
The unmanned systems test and evaluation project is a new area within the Test and Evaluation Science and Technology Program, which is sponsored by the Test Resource Management Center (TRMC) within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
GTRI has ongoing projects in four areas of the T&E Science and Technology Program: unmanned and autonomous systems, directed energy, net-centric systems and non-intrusive instrumentation.
The applied research arm of the Georgia Institute of Technology, GTRI is also involved in other test and evaluation projects for the government, Roberts said. Its test and evaluation capabilities cover a broad range of engineering and scientific disciplines, including tracking new technologies and their effect on test and evaluation, planning and executing programs for the government’s operational test agencies and providing and/or sponsoring test and evaluation professional education courses and workshops, as well as meetings such the annual ITEA Technology Conference.
Unmanned and autonomous systems are recognized as critical components to all aspects of modern warfare across the joint forces, and they are growing in mission effectiveness. They have proved effective in Afghanistan and Iraq by providing commanders at both the operational and tactical levels with improved intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and precision strike capabilities.
“They are being chosen over manned systems when the situation involves the dull (long mission times), the dirty (sampling for hazardous materials) and the dangerous (lethal exposure to hostile action)—and when the unmanned systems can provide capabilities that are not achievable by manned systems,” Weiss noted.
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