MIRA appointed to second phase of unmanned military vehicle project

A Midlands technology park has been appointed to deliver the second phase of an unmanned vehicle research project.

HORIBA MIRA, near Nuneaton, is recognised as a world leader in advanced engineering, research and product development.

The park, a designated enterprise zone, is also an established cluster for autonomous vehicle research.

It has received £365,000 from the UK Centre for Defence Enterprise (now transitioned to the Defence and Security Accelerator) to deliver the second phase of its Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) Autonomy research project.

The project, ‘UGV Localisation and Perception using Deep Learning Neural Networks’, enables UGVs to operate effectively in challenging environments such as combat zones.  

Using computer vision cameras and deep learning neural networks, the research is a novel application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in the defence sector. The use of AI ensures the system is tolerant to the changing conditions and environments often experienced by military vehicles, both manned and unmanned.

As part of the project, HORIBA MIRA is developing a way to ensure that UGVs have an alternative solution in place as a fail-safe if GPS signals are lost. Current autonomous systems rely on Global Positioning System (GPS) and Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), however these systems can be vulnerable to jamming and interference and hence can lack the robustness required for autonomous driving in certain military contexts.

Phase two of the project will improve the system performance and sensing capability as well as produce an advanced prototype that can be easily integrated into a wide range of existing systems.

The system could be used either to complement GPS or as an alternative to it. The technology continues to be developed using HORIBA MIRA’s specialised, off-road UGV proving ground and will undergo further development trials off site during 2017.

Andrew Maloney, Chief Engineer for Defence Solutions at HORIBA MIRA, said: “The technology that we are developing enables a breakthrough in autonomy, meaning that our vehicles can start to understand their surroundings and no longer be reliant on off-board systems such as GPS.

“Winning the second phase of the project means we can improve the core technology and take the system to new environments where it hasn’t been before to assess its ability to navigate and drive them autonomously.

“The Defence and Security Accelerator’s involvement and support with this project has been essential in helping us realise the concept and also to maximise the future benefits to the UK Defence sector.”

The first phase of the project was completed last year, culminating in the demonstration of a proof of concept system using HORIBA MIRA’s Modular Autonomous Control Equipment (MACE) research vehicle.

The MACE research vehicle tested at the end of phase one was fitted with the proof of concept system and was not only able to navigate and localise but also to drive autonomously without GPS.

The Defence and Security Accelerator is part of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.