Ever since World War II, driving a truck has been one of the more dangerous wartime assignments; U.S. Army truck drivers were the first solders captured or killed in Operation Desert Storm, and in recent years contractors hired to haul goods for American armed forces suffered greatly from attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. Which is the major reason a short convoy of trucks rumbled around Fort Hood, Texas, earlier this month without drivers — testing a prototype driverless technology that could get bolted into anything rolling into harm’s way on wheels.
Known as the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System, the tech was developed by Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Army’s Tank-Automotive Research engineering center in Michigan. Similar to the driverless car prototypes from automakers and Google, the AMAS uses laser sensors and software to sense its surroundings, pilot a course around obstacles and recognize hazards such as pedestrians.
In the Army test shown above, the system was mounted on one of its Palletized Load System haulers and the M915 semi, then programmed to follow a course that simulated driving around a city. Along the way, the engineers threw in oncoming traffic, stalled vehicles and one mannequin on a skateboard pushed across the convoy’s path. According to the Army, the system passed the tests with ease.
The Army has more tests schedule for later this year; Lockheed Martin says the AMAS system can easily bolt into any vehicle, but clearly has yet to face hostile or combat situations. While automakers have vowed to have driverless cars available for consumers by the end of the decade, the Pentagon may beat them to it — especially if it means saving lives.