Artificial Intelligence, trust in unmanned systems among the focuses of Day 2 of USDPS

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Trust in unmanned systems – particularly autonomous ones – was among the hot topics for the second day of Unmanned Systems Defense. Protection. Security, which was delayed due to icy weather but soon warmed up with some hot topics.

“Change is coming faster than we think,” said keynote speaker Army Lt. Gen Edward C. Cardon, director of the Office of Business Transformation in the Office of the Under Secretary of the Army. “The combination of all of these technologies is going to have a huge impact on the operations for not just the joint force, but for the entire Army.”

All of the new technology being developed will have a major impact on the future of warfare as we know it, he said, and with that in mind, the understanding of this technology has to keep pace with its development.

A big part of the future of this technology is artificial intelligence, as it will “allow us to us to identify patterns we may have missed,” Cardon said. While AI will play a big role in these technologies going forward, it cannot be the end all, be all, Cardon said, as there still needs to be a human element involved when it comes to making certain decisions.

Dale A. Ormond, principal director of research in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Research and Engineering), also believes AI will play a large role in the future of these systems, particularly for multi-domain joint battle. However, he says having trust in these systems will be just as vital.

Trust in the technology will largely be built on getting it in the hands of those in the field, so that they can test it and provide feedback on what works, and what needs to be improved. If that trust isn’t established, the warfighter will abandon the technology.

Optimistic skepticism

Dr. Paul Rodgers, director of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), said he is very bullish and excited about the future of ground robotics, but also said he balances that with “healthy skepticism of the future of ground robotics.”

There are people on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to unmanned technologies, from the true believers who “drank the Kool-Aid” about future robotics, to the “true haters,” such as those who don’t embrace the thought of unmanned systems “augmenting, or replacing or filling any element of that mission space,” he said.

Rodgers said he thinks people need to be right in the middle, occupying a space of both optimism and skepticism. While there is a future for these systems in the military, Rodgers said there tends to be a habit of overpromising and underdelivering on promises.

“We are somewhere, depending on who you’re talking to, we’re at the point of heightened expectations and we’re at the trough of disillusionment, we’re somewhere in that,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers pointed to the UAV industry going through a similar situation, citing the “crucible of war” as what helped the industry go through that trough and learning cycle. The application and real-life experience is “what really got us there,” Rodgers said.  

Failure also played a major role. Typically, failure is considered a bad thing, but not in instances of developing and trying to adapt new technologies, such as unmanned technologies.

“You have to fail in order to really realize the potential of the future of these things,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers said that in terms of unmanned ground robotics, he believes that technologists who work with these vehicles every day are coming out of that trough, but operators are still working with heightened expectations. He wants to make sure that the end technologies being developed won’t disappoint operators, because you don’t want to lose a generation of leaders who walk away and say, “there’s nothing here.”

While there are a number of challenges in the development of these technologies, such as affordability and how these vehicles operate in different environments, Rodgers said that he invites industry to work with TARDEC to meet, and ultimately tackle, these various challenges.

“Proprietary, sole-source solutions are going to be unaffordable for the U.S. Army going forward,” he warned.

Happy birthday, DARPA

Founded on Feb. 7, 1958, DARPA celebrated its 60th anniversary during USDPS. During his address, Jean Charles Lede, program manager, DARPA Tactical Technology Office, touched on DARPA’s accomplishments over the last six decades, including the various platforms it has developed.

Lede highlighted two platform centric development accomplishments — the ACTUV, which was transferred to the ONR last week in the form of the submarine-hunting Sea Hunter, and Gremlins, a series of small drones. He also highlighted two autonomy centric development achievements, one being Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA), which demonstrates autonomous navigation in a complex, urban, cluttered environment at 20 m/s with range up to 1 km, and the Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE), which seeks to develop and demonstrate the autonomy and collaborative behavior algorithms that will enable legacy strike aircraft and systems to perform in denied environments with minimal upgrades.

To keep up with potential adversarial threats that arise with the technological advancements being made every day, DARPA has also developed counter UAS systems through programs such as Aerial Dragnet, Squad X and Mobile Force Protection (MFP).

While DARPA has accomplished a lot over the last 60 years, it is now looking ahead, but Lede said that the future surrounding the agency will largely be dependent on the attendees in the room.

“What’s the future? I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you because I need you to tell me,” Lede said. He encouraged attendees to come to the agency with their ideas, especially those having to do with unmanned and autonomous airplanes. DARPA is especially interested in disruptive changes, ones which might not fit the current business model.

Below: Dr. Paul Rodgers, director of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), speaks at Unmanned Systems Defense. Protection. Security. Photo: AUVSI