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Ensuring Tactical Relevance... and Saving Lives
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 November 2005 From the Editor's Desk

Ensuring Tactical Relevance... and Saving Lives

In early October, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency sponsored a Grand Challenge robot desert race in the Mojave Desert. It was the second annual DARPA challenge to industry and academia to build and program an unmanned ground vehicle that can negotiate rough terrain with full autonomy, that is, without remote control or human commands.

The October results show the rapid development of the technology. No vehicle managed to cross the finish line in 2004. This year, five of the 23 vehicles that started the race finished it, having found their own way across 132 miles (212 kilometres) of rough terrain, steep drops, bridges, tunnels and obstacles in under 10 hours.

Race organizers and participants compared the results to the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., when a new technology, long dreamed of, was shown to be viable. A DARPA spokeswoman commented that the five vehicles that crossed the finish line in Nevada proved that autonomous unmanned vehicles are tactically relevant.

Unmanned vehicles of all stripes (air, surface, underwater, and ground, both autonomous and controlled) are playing larger roles in combat and civilian applications such as battlefield supply movement, search and rescue, firefighting, and border control, as well as underwater warfare and examinations of undersea geological features and assets such as oil rigs and cables.

The incredibly complex technology behind these vehicles requires standardization. Toward that end, the development of unmanned undersea vehicles will benefit from the formation of ASTM International’s newest technical committee, F41 on Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Systems. To date, over 130 committee members, representing UUV manufacturers, consultants, academia, government and trade associations from Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, have come together to develop standards that will move the industry forward. The committee, which was formed earlier this year, is currently developing standards for autonomy and control architecture, communications, and mission payload interface.

With their myriad applications, unmanned vehicles will save untold lives in fires, at disaster scenes, and more. Committee F41 joins Committee F38 on Unmanned Air Vehicle Systems, and a subcommittee of E54 on Homeland Security Applications that is developing standards for urban search and rescue robots, in a growing family of ASTM International committees developing standards for the unmanned vehicle universe. We’re proud to be a part of it and to impact the growth of life-saving technology.

Maryann Gorman
Editor in Chief

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