ARIBO: Bringing Autonomous Vehicles to Military Bases, Campuses and Even City Streets

Initiated as a way to develop autonomous vehicles for the battlefield, Applied Robotics for Installations and Base Operations (ARIBO) has evolved to support a range of pilots for users, both within and outside the armed forces, to test autonomous vehicles and a fleet-management platform.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jan 14, 2015

The soldier of the future may more closely resemble RoboCop than G.I. Joe. The U.S. Department of Defense is looking for ways in which to bring the power of robotics and advanced sensor networks to the battlefield, but the effort is still in its infancy and is starting with a project, borne from the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), that may eventually replace all soldier-driven tanks with autonomous unmanned ground vehicles. Such vehicles would be monitored by satellite or other wireless communication systems, via the Internet or local networks, and would likely use sensor networks to navigate themselves through battlefields and communicate with other vehicles and soldiers.

Battlefields are hostile environments. Testing and developing autonomous vehicles, therefore, begins outside the theater of operations, at military bases. Thanks to a project known as Applied Robotics for Installations and Base Operations (ARIBO), autonomous ground vehicles are also being tested and developed at locations as disparate as corporate campuses and metro transit systems.

The Navia (photo courtesy of Induct Technology)
ARIBO was born in 2011 when Jim Overholt, then the US Army's chief roboticist, realized that developing and using semi-autonomous vehicles on Army bases could serve to improve the military branch's knowledge base and build its fleet of vehicles that save on labor and fuel costs through the use of electrically powered vehicles. Corey Clothier, who was then working for TARDEC as a consultant, helped Overholt design and deploy the program.

"We sat in the cafeteria and developed a scrappy plan," Clothier recalls. They considered factors such as how to enlist military bases in a program to test unmanned vehicles, as well as how they might pay for such a program. "We wanted it to be collaborative for agencies within the federal government, and avoid duplicative efforts [among different groups]."

By late 2013, the team had identified three different partners. Fort Bragg was the first partner to join. It needed a program to reduce labor needs associated with the Warrior Transition Battalion—which rehabilitates injured service men and women at Fort Bragg's Womack Army Medical Center before returning them to service. These soldiers require transportation between their barracks and the hospital on a daily basis. While Fort Bragg had an adequate number of vehicles, Clothier says, it was having trouble staffing the fleet with as many drivers as the Warrior Transition program needed, based on the high number of wounded soldiers.

West Point joined ARIBO in order to test semi-autonomous vehicles for shuttling personnel and visitors around campus and to and from remote parking areas. Stanford University, which has a similar interest in the vehicles, signed on as well, looking for new ways in which to transport staff members and visiting scientists around the Stanford National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC) campus.

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