Army Robotics Expo – where big ideas are born

Self-driving vehicles, drones and autonomous ammo loaders were on display at the Army Robotic Expo in Adelaide on August 11.

CAPTION: An automatic resupply mechanical handling system is demonstrated at the Army Robotics Expo in Adelaide. Story and photo by Warrant Officer Class Two Max Bree.

For the second year running, exhibitors from big industry to academia and small start-ups pitched their ideas on robotics to Army and Defence Senior Leadership.

Lieutenant Colonel Alex Palmer, of Army’s Robotic and Autonomous Systems Implementation and Coordination Office, said the expo was an opportunity for developers to get immediate feedback.

“These activities open the door to companies who’ve got great tech to showcase, so we can see if it’s an idea we’d like to get after,” Lieutenant Colonel Palmer said.

“But there can be blunt conversations saying ‘we’ve explored that technology and it’s not advanced enough for us to continue’.

“Sometimes we don’t know the questions, they come to us and say ‘we’ve got this’ and we think ‘that would be great for this application’.”

Among the 60 exhibitors were some who returned after last year to show how their ideas had advanced.

One was the company 3ME Technology, which previously showed off its battery technology and ability to convert vehicles to electric.

“They were demonstrating a small, electric quad bike, but we knew they had taken their electric technology and placed it into 20-tonne bulldozers for the mining industry,” Lieutenant Colonel Palmer said.

“Since then, we’ve collaborated with them and Defence Science and Technology Group built the ePMV.”

Since the last Robotics Expo, Army has entered into more than 15 contracts with industry to explore new and emerging concepts through technology.

“It’s great to see how they can take technology from low technical-readiness levels to then show higher levels and possibly provide something to Army, when before it was just an idea,” Lieutenant Colonel Palmer said.

“There’s a market for UAVs and integrating those into Army. A number of those aspects can be placed into uncrewed ground vehicles. That could give us ground-swarming abilities, rather than aerial-swarming ones.”

Army is already Australia’s largest user of uncrewed aerial systems, with 254 in service and more than 400 off-the-shelf multi-rotor UAS in use.

Work is also ongoing with Boeing Phantomworks Australia to make autonomous aircraft guide autonomous ground assets, including pathfinding and target acquisition.

Lieutenant Colonel Palmer said the expo was an opportunity for like-minded people to exchange ideas and possibly team up with a pitch to Army.

“After the activity, our team come together and go through our lists of what we saw and think about concepts we want to collaborate with,” he said.

“Getting some of this technology out and into the field is something we’re beginning to explore.”

CAPTION: Australian Army Captain Balazs Bauer talks about an optionally crewed armoured vehicle. Photo by Warrant Officer Class Two Max Bree.





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