US Army delivers new military robot for UT engineers to develop

Aisling Ayers

Future wars could be fought with infantry and robots working together. With a new robot delivery, UT researchers will be developing ways to help the two communicate.

The United States Army delivered a new robotic vehicle to UT this fall for the researchers to enhance the robot’s ability to respond to soldiers in the field. Engineering researcher Mitch Pryor leads the members of the Nuclear and Applied Robotics Group, who are improving the robot’s semi-autonomous behaviors and user interfaces.

The Army sent the robot to Austin for additional research after group members worked on the robot over the summer. Pryor said the group focuses on creating robots suited for challenging environments, which caught the attention of the Army.

“That applied aspect of what we do in these challenging environments was what the Army really saw as an opportunity as a way to make sure that we could take all the great foundational research that any robotics individual on campus is doing and simplify the transition of that technology to the military,” said Pryor, director of UT’s Robotics Center of Excellence. 

John Duncan, a mechanical engineering graduate student, said he is developing ways for a soldier and the robot to work together to accomplish a shared goal in changing conditions. Pryor said the robot will support soldiers by carrying equipment, among other tasks.

 “The robotics capabilities that I want to develop will affect defense, but I hope that they’ll also affect lots of aspects about people’s lives,” Duncan said. “Human-Robot Teaming will be an important part of how robots are used in the future.”

Pryor said he does not have to worry about finding the right students for his team because qualified students are already attracted to the University’s engineering department.

 “By the time that they’ve gotten accepted and I meet them, I’m happy that most of the job is done,” Duncan said.

Pryor said the group will possibly receive more military vehicles in the future and plans to send students to Army research labs. He said the team plans to demonstrate the vehicle to the Army for the first time in 2020.

“One of the great things about our lab is it’s very application based,” said Cassidy Elliott, a graduate research assistant for the group and mechanical engineering graduate student. “You know that they’re going to be using the (robot) capabilities that you’re working on here.”