VEDECOM brought together, on behalf of the Battle Lab Terre, several French industry leaders in Defense. The aim was to implement an autonomous convoy of vehicles using a ‘multi-Follow Me’ mode behind a leading vehicle. The long-term perspective is to deploy interoperable autonomous convoys in theaters of operations while integrating the constraints of the Defense industry.
Project partners: NEXTER Robotics, ARQUUS and CNIM.
An unprecedented partnership launched a year ago
VEDECOM was commissioned as a trusted third party and expert R&D French Institute on the topic of autonomous and electric vehicles. As a matter of fact, this Institute for Energy Transition is located in Versailles, in the Satory district, very close from the army and its suppliers Nexter and Arquus. Its platforms and research teams are dedicated to vehicule electrification, automated and connected vehicles, new mobility solutions.
Located at the heart of the “cluster of innovative mobility” supported by the Yvelines couty, not far from Paris, VEDECOM runs a large ecosystem, integrating Nexter and Arquus.
A consortium between the VEDECOM research institute, VEDECOM Tech (business subsidiary)and the industrialists NEXTER Robotics, ARQUUS and CNIM has been set up. This joint project, entitled MC² for “Micro-convoy in contact”, was coordinated by VEDECOM Tech team.
The role of VEDECOM Tech first, to coordinate all the actors to set up an interoperable convoy and second, to carry out the dynamic assessment of the convoy. The aim is to objectify the behavior of each vehicle in the convoy, to rule on the state of the art and to address key point improvements.
After the technological development, the project was materialized with a demonstration in front of representatives of the Army and the State. This was held on January 28, 2021 on the test tracks of Versailles-Satory.
Various vehicles and robots united by “Follow-me” technology
The convoy used four types of vehicles:
- a Sherpa Light, the leading vehicle, provided by Arquus,
- following was the Robot-LAB, on a PVP basis, provided by Arquus
- then the Optio robot-mule, provided by Nexter Robotics
- then a Themis 4.5 robot-Mule, provided by CNIM
The three following vehicles were equipped with technological bricks called “Follow Me”, allowing each robot to follow the vehicle in front of it, the “target vehicle”. In the case of a “multi-follow Me” convoy, each robot virtually harnesses itself and autonomously adapts its trajectory and speed in order to form the convoy. Thus, each vehicle builds its own trajectory.
A distinction must be made between “Follow me” technology and traditional ‘platooning’, a term used for autonomous convoys when all the vehicles replay the same trajectory (for example through a GPS track), with a speed setpoint managed globally.
Interoperable and interchangeable convoy
The MC² project aims to demonstrate interoperability in two ways: heterogeneity of vehicles and interchangeability of robots in the convoy.
Regarding the heterogeneity of vehicles, the convoy combined both an 11-tonne 4*4 tactical vehicle, capable of traveling at 110km/h, a 5.5-tonne 4*4 reconnaissance vehicle that can ride up to 20km/h and 2 multipurpose 2-ton tracked robot mules capable of traveling at 18km/h.
Two convoy configurations were implemented to demonstrate the ability of robots to couple to different vehicles.
VEDECOM Tech used Ultra Wide Band (UWB) technology in order to assess the convoy dynamic behavior. The vehicle movement area has been defined and equipped with geolocated fixed transmitters called “anchors”. The vehicles were fitted with embedded captors so that they could position in the frame of reference formed by the anchors.
All location data was recorded in real time. The post-processing makes it possible to characterize the dynamic behavior of the convoy:
- speed of each vehicle
- interdistance between vehicles
- lateral deviation from the path of the robots
Ruling the French state of the art and increasing the forces’safety
In France, this event marks the first stage in the development of interoperable platooning convoys meeting military requirements and capable of operating in a destructured environment. The main objectives of this approach are to increase the security of forces by optimizing logistics, and to refocus human resources on operations.
Expected applications are long-distance autonomous logistics convoys and autonomous last-mile multi-purpose convoys.
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