Brain-controlled robots might seem like the stuff of sci-fi and autonomous armoured vehicles the stuff of nightmares, but they were among some cutting-edge technologies on display at the Army Robotics Expo in Brisbane on April 20.
It was an opportunity for industry to show what they had available and for Army to see what might be worth pursuing.
Fifty-five companies responded to themes of lightening soldier loads, efficiency and decision making, outlined in the Army Robotic and Autonomous Systems Strategy.
Colonel Robin Smith, Director of the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Implementation and Coordination Office, part of Future Land Warfare Branch in Army Headquarters, said the expo would help Army stay on top.
“We can’t afford to let the technology move away from us,” Colonel Smith said.
“We can’t control the rate of change so we need to stay abreast of that.”
Other technologies on display included remote, underwater submersibles, autonomous multi-role vehicles, electric all-terrain vehicles and a hybrid rotary/fixed-wing drone capable of vertical take-offs and landings.
Support functions were included, with autonomous plant equipment and logistic robots that automatically move pallets, all displayed.
Despite the quality of technology, Colonel Smith said the expo was not a competition but a collaboration.
“It’s for us to understand the state of technology, where it is, what it could do for us, where industry is moving, and to have the conversations with junior and senior leaders,” he said.
“We’re looking for what appears to be useful to us.”
An autonomous systems 40M MAN truck was demonstrated that would allow unmanned vehicles to form a convoy, along with numerous flying drones, augmented and virtual-reality systems.
“A number of systems are already in-service, such as bomb-disposal robots and drones,” Colonel Smith said.
“We’re not starting new, but what we’re seeing here is some of the capabilities coming on stream.
“As we look ahead, we might look at improving our current systems by enhancing them with autonomy.”
It was the first Army Robotics Expo and a follow up to the Army Robotics and Autonomous Systems Strategy released in 2019.
After the strategy was published, Colonel Smith said Army realised there was a lot of Australian-built technology available.
“There’s an opportunity to be more lethal and present on a future battlefield,” he said.
“There are opportunities in autonomy, but war is a human endeavour. There will simply be more and smarter tools available to soldiers who are fighting in the future.”
Full coverage of the Chief of Army Symposium is available in a special eight-page lift-out in the latest edition of Army News (April 29).