OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Human-Machine Interfaces;Trusted AI and Autonomy
The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.
OBJECTIVE: To demonstrate the ability for a robotic swarm platform to autonomously accomplish airfield repair tasks currently performed by personnel. This includes damage assessment, UXO identification and removal, spall and crater repair, paint striping, and airfield lighting.
DESCRIPTION: Currently, repairing an airfield after attack is a manually intensive and time-consuming task, with numerous interrelated and sequential tasks needing to be done by dozens of personnel. Even in the most ideal circumstances, this requires substantial training, large amounts of equipment, and an airfield free from the possibility of being attacked before repairs are complete. This is a set of assumptions that is increasingly difficult to make in today’s contested environments. Rather, adapting robots to the various tasks needed to repair an airfield and having a swarm accomplish these interrelated tasks removes several of the assumptions and has the potential to get the overall effort done faster and with less errors.
PHASE I: As this is a Direct-to-Phase-II (D2P2) topic, no Phase I awards will be made as a result of this topic. To qualify for this D2P2 topic, the Government expects the applicant to demonstrate feasibility by means of a prior “Phase I-type” effort that does not constitute work undertaken as part of a prior SBIR/STTR funding agreement. The applicant must be able to demonstrate its technical solution can accomplish the following to show the feasibility of adapting the technical solution into a prototype: 1) a software platform capable of monitoring and reporting on the status, location, and current operation of dozens of individual robots as well as commanding them to do a set of tasks in a given area, 2) a base robotic platform capable of being fitted with various attachments to accomplish different tasks, 3) the ability for an individual robot to sense its environment and adapt what it is doing to the situation (e.g., noticing a 5 foot deep crater and navigating around it, avoiding other robots or large debris), 4) a drivetrain or similar locomotion that is able to navigate extremely uneven terrain and self-right in the event of tip-over or similar, 5) the ability to do operations completely autonomous within the swarm with no outside communication.
PHASE II: The Government will seek awardees to adapt their existing technology to the specific requirements of airfield damage repair and recovery. This will include: 1) determining the technical requirements for each task and the ones best suited for demonstrating the potential of further development and scaling, 2) adding various attachments appropriate to needed tasks, 3) adapting the existing software platform to monitor and control the new tasks, 4) iterating through various approaches to operations flow as the interrelated tasks start and complete over time, 5) demonstrating the use case from objective 1 in a live setting.
PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: From a military standpoint, extending the functionality of the robot swarm beyond this use case will be comparatively simple with the basic framework already in place and demonstrated. Adapting the technology to further simple tasks in different environments will create a force multiplier effect on the technology itself, benefiting the military far beyond this first use case. From a commercial standpoint, autonomous robots that can perform interrelated but simple tasks from either centralized control or as a networked swarm has application in numerous fields beyond airfield damage repair. Natural disaster recovery could have robots removing debris, locating survivors in hard-to-reach places, delivering supplies, etc. Performing maintenance in remote areas could be simplified by having robots stationed there instead.
- Department of the Air Force, “Introduction to Rapid Airfield Damage Recovery (RADR)”, AFTTP 3-32.10, 15 Oct 2019;
- Bell, Haley P., Cox, Benjamin C., Edwards, Lulu, Garcia, Lyan I., et al, “Rapid Airfield Damage Recovery Technology Integration Experiment”, US Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center, June 2019;
KEYWORDS: Airfield repair; robotics; autonomous; swarm; crater; UXO; multi-purpose; robot