Unmanned Systems Teaming for Semi-Autonomous Casualty Extraction



OBJECTIVE: Develop a capability to enable emerging mobile robotic platforms to function as a team to locate, assess, and extract a casualty back to a safe location for medical treatment and further evacuation from difficult terrain and hazardous environments. 

DESCRIPTION: The Army and Marine Corps are developing concepts and strategies for future ground combat operations in the 2025-2040 timeframe that require highly capable and dispersed units to leverage Manned-Unmanned Teaming capabilities to penetrate high risk-areas while conducting Distributed Operations missions [1]. The “Joint Concept for Robotics and Autonomous Systems” further speaks to the increased role of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) in the future battlefield, predicting that greater levels of autonomy will allow RAS to “evolve from tools for basic tasks into team members capable of coordinating and collaborating across domains and Services” [2]. Future RAS are likely to provide multi-mission functionality, and could be leveraged for medical missions including casualty extraction in man-denied environments, reducing the risk of injury to medics and other personnel during casualty extraction attempts in high-threat areas. RAS systems capable of casualty extraction would also provide standoff protection for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives (CBRNE) threats and to aid in mortuary affairs operations (i.e. extraction of deceased personnel) in hazardous environments. An individual common-use mobile robotic platform is unlikely to be able to perform all the required tasks for a semi-autonomous casualty extraction mission. However, a team of small mobile robots could team up to collaboratively perform the required tasks of locating, assessing, and extracting a casualty, with a human in the loop for supervision and high-level commands. DARPA has been working on developing robot swarming capabilities for both ground and air unmanned systems (UMS) where a large number of UMS come together upon command, or as result of semi-autonomous or autonomous mission analysis, to achieve a common objective. The goal of this topic is to develop the capability for a swarm of future common-use mobile unmanned platforms (ground and/or air), perhaps equipped with common-use end-effector manipulators or grippers, and/or so-called soft robotics technologies, to team-up and synchronize their movements to perform a casualty extraction mission. This may involve self-assembly by a swarm of small robots into a larger UMS capable of executing a casualty extraction mission. Methods for real-time communication and processing need to be developed to enable synchronization between RAS elements. The development a unique robotic platform or unique end effector(s) for casualty extraction is not the intent of this effort, but rather, the intent is to develop the software to enable a secondary use for existing or emerging small multi-purpose Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs), and/or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to self-assemble to perform the cognitive and physical tasks required to extract a wounded casualty to a safe location where a combat medic can perform stabilizing care and initiate further evacuation. The Advanced Explosive Ordinance Disposal Robotics System (AEODRS) [3], the Man-Transportable Robotics System (MTRS), Inc. 2 [4], and the Common Robotic System – Individual (CRS-I) [5], are examples of future mobile robotic platforms that could be leveraged for this capability. Innovative solutions which utilize other types of common mobile robotic platforms not mentioned above are also encouraged. The desired outcome of this research effort is to demonstrate the capability of two or more mobile robotic platforms to effectively communicate and coordinate to collaboratively conduct a casualty extraction mission under the control of a single human operator; this will require significant autonomy of the RAS to be able to perform these tasks in timely manner. The ability to easily integrate with future mobile robotics platforms is an important element of this capability, therefore, use of open architectures and compliance with existing interoperability standards is required. To further promote cross-platform interoperability, at least one robotic platform that was not developed in-house must be used as part of the proposed system. Proposers should use the Army UGV Interoperability Profiles (UGV IOP) for guidance to facilitate integration with future Army RAS platforms. 

PHASE I: Design a concept for a swarm of multiple mobile robotic platforms to collaboratively conduct a casualty extraction mission. The scope of the casualty extraction mission should include 1) identifying/locating the casualty, 2) navigating to the casualty location, 3) self-assembling as required in order to execute casualty extraction, 4) securing the casualty for transport (e.g. using a standard litter) and 5) collaboratively transporting to a safe location defined by the human operator. Identify concepts and methods that will allow for synchronization of movements and information sharing between and among the RAS elements. The proposer shall identify concepts and methods that will allow the robotic elements to operate semi-autonomously such that a single human operator can provide high-level tasking of the RAS team to allow the mission to be executed in a timely manner. Develop an initial concept design and model key elements to conceptually demonstrate the feasibility of the proposed approach. Based on Phase I research, develop a Phase II proposal and refine the commercialization plan contained in the Phase I proposal. RESEARCH INVOLVING ANIMAL OR HUMAN SUBJECTS: The SBIR Program discourages offerors from proposing to conduct Human or Animal Subject Research during Phase 1 due to the significant lead time required to prepare the documentation and obtain approval, which will delay the Phase 1 award. All research involving human subjects (to include use of human biological specimens and human data) and animals, shall comply with the applicable federal and state laws and agency policy/guidelines for human subject and animal protection. Research involving the use of human subjects may not begin until the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command's Office of Research Protections, Human Research Protections Office (HRPO) approves the protocol. Written approval to begin research or subcontract for the use of human subjects under the applicable protocol proposed for an award will be issued from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, HRPO, under separate letter to the Contractor. Non-compliance with any provision may result in withholding of funds and or the termination of the award. 

PHASE II: Conceptually demonstrate the capability of a single human operator to orchestrate a casualty extraction mission using a swarm of ground and/or air RAS platforms by developing a prototype system based on the Phase I initial concept design. Test, evaluate, and demonstrate the Phase II prototype in an operationally-relevant environment. The RAS system should be prototyped, in both hardware and software, as a modular system consisting of several (but at least two) mobile robots. The prototype should demonstrate the capability of the RAS elements to synchronize movements in real-time through short-range communications, demonstrating the ability of the RAS team to move together without long-range communications to a remote operator. The proposer will identify concepts and methods that will allow the robotic elements to operate semi-autonomously such that a single human operator can provide high-level tasking of the RAS team in order to execute the mission in a timely manner. Based on Phase II research, refine the commercialization plan contained in the Phase II proposal. The use of existing mobile robotic platforms, manipulators, and sensor payloads is encouraged for the prototype system to the degree that is possible. The proposer will be responsible for acquiring and/or developing the components of the prototype system; no GFE will be provided. The RAS extraction system should demonstrate robustness to different types of terrain, varying casualty poses, and variation in Soldier height and body-type. Interoperability of the systems shall be addressed by detailed documentation of the required software and hardware interfaces and by developing a future integration plan with emerging multi-use mobile robotic systems. 

PHASE III: Incorporate system improvements informed by the Phase II evaluation results and further develop the RAS swarm/teaming capabilities to mature the Technical Readiness Level (TRL) of the system, with a target of TRL 6. Demonstrate the application of this RAS teaming capability to provide standoff casualty extraction in varying terrain and operational environments. Execute system evaluation in a suitable operational environment (e.g. Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD), Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD), Marine Corps Limited Objective Experiment (LOE), Army Network Integration Exercise (NIE), etc.). Present the prototype project, as a candidate for fielding, to applicable Army, Navy/Marine Corps, Air Force, Cost Guard, Department of Defense, Program Managers. Examples of emerging Army robotic ground mobility platforms that could leverage this technology include the Advanced Explosive Ordinance Disposal Robotics System (AEODRS), the Man-Transportable Robotics System (MTRS), and the Common Robotic System – Individual (CRS-I), however cross-domain and Joint applications should also be considered. Once validated conceptually and technically, the dual use applications of this technology are likely to be significant in both civilian emergency services and other military operations, and thus enable commercialization according to the plan outlined in the Phase II proposal. The technology is especially suited for applications in which standoff interaction with soldiers or civilians is of paramount importance, e.g. environments with CBRNE exposure threats. While the primary intended use for this system is for stand-off casualty extraction on the battlefield, an alternate use could be for humanitarian disaster relief missions involving robot-assisted search and rescue in hazardous environments, for example, during disease outbreaks or nuclear disasters. The technology and methods developed to allow small mobile robots to effectively coordinate as teammates extends the capability of existing RAS platforms allowing them to accomplish tasks through teaming that they would otherwise not be capable of individually. This has general applicability to other mission areas, e.g. explosive ordinance disposal, logistics, etc., in which RAS platforms are likely to be increasingly utilized to protect and extend the reach of the Warfighter. 


1: "United States Army-Marine Corps White Paper, Multi-Domain Battle: Combined Arms for the 21st Century", 18 January 2017.

2:  "Joint Concept for Robotic and Autonomous Systems", Joint Chiefs of Staff, 24 October 2016

3:  "Navy Presses On With Long-Delayed Bomb Disposal Robot Program" http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2016/March/Pages/NavyPressesOnWithLongDelayedBombDisposalRobotProgram.aspx. Accessed 6 Feb. 2017.

4:  "Man Transportable Robot System (MTRS) Increment 2". USAASC. http://asc.army.mil/web/portfolio-item/cs-css-man-transportable-robot-system-mtrs-increment-2/ Accessed 6 Feb. 2017.

5:  "Common Robotic System – Individual (CRS(I))". USAASC. http://asc.army.mil/web/portfolio-item/cs-css-common-robotic-system-individual-crsi/.Accessed 6 Feb. 2017.


KEYWORDS: Robotics And Autonomous Systems, Autonomy, Medical Robotics, Manned-Unmanned Teaming, Swarming, Casualty Extraction, Casualty Evacuation, Unmanned Systems, UAS, UGV, CASEVAC 

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