The Polytechnic University of Madrid, SENER Aeroespacial, IVECO España and INTA join forces in the ARCO project14/09/2021 (Spain)
The consortium formed by the Spanish entities Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM), SENER Aeroespacial, IVECO España and INTA are developing the Robotic Application for an Operational Convoy (ARCO) project, coordinated by the UPM. The ARCO project that is part of an annual call for R&D projects of interest to defense convened by the Spanish General Directorate of Armament and Material, as part of the Program for Cooperation in Scientific Research and Development of Strategic Technologies (Coincidente Program).
The goal of the project is to develop a level-6 TRL technology demonstrator of a military convoy consisting of three IVECO transport trucks: a lead ROV, an autonomous vehicle that follows the lead vehicle, and a third, manually driven vehicle that contains the mission control post to operate the first vehicle and oversee the operation of the convoy. To this end, a kit has been developed that allows turning two manual platforms into remotely operated or autonomous platforms, depending on the needs of the mission, and a command and control post.
The UPM, as the consortium leader, is responsible through its Automation and Robotics Center for coordinating the project as a whole, and for the automation of the remote and autonomous (drive-by-wire) platforms, as well as of the guidance and control system for these platforms, the command and control post and the communications system. Of note is the fact that the guidance and control system applies advanced optimization techniques that are capable of selecting the optimal route depending on the terrain. The ARCO project is also introducing a novel platform control system that gives the remote operator real-time command via waypoints.
SENER Aeroespacial is responsible for developing the real-time, on-board navigation system for the vehicles. This system includes vehicle geolocation and the detection, identification and positioning, in real time, of environmental elements, such as the road, other vehicles, obstacles, signals, etc. To achieve this, SENER Aeroespacial uses a combination of multiple sensors, such as a GNSS receiver, inertial sensors, LiDAR sensors, radars and stereoscopic or vision cameras. The data collected by these sensors are processed in real-time in a processing unit, where they are merged to provide a more reliable and robust solution than those calculated by each sensor independently. Advanced data management techniques, information merging and artificial intelligence algorithms are used during the image processing.
SENER Aeroespacial's General Manager of Defense, Rafael Orbe, notes that one of the main challenges is the fact that "the system must be able to operate in zero or denied GNSS/GPS signal environments and navigate unstructured (off-road) terrain. This means that, in addition to incorporating the conventional techniques applied in the civil sector, it is necessary to develop specific additional improvements in order to cover these more demanding scenarios." He added: "SENER Aeroespacial is applying to ARCO its experience with successful navigation systems for space programs, such as the GNC/AOCS systems of the Herschel & Planck science satellites, and the IXV and Space Rider spacecraft."
IVECO España, through its Defence Vehicles Commercial Department, offers the ARCO Project the three vehicle platforms that are being implemented, whose counterparts are currently being used by the Spanish armed forces. Additionally, IVECO Defence Vehicles (IDV) is supporting the integration of new systems by providing specific technical information on its trucks, technical support for the installation and integration of the different devices needed to automate the vehicles, and fine tuning the military vehicles being automated.
INTA, through the Platforms and Vehicles Department of the General Sub-Directorate of Terrestrial Systems, is responsible for defining the user requirements and the system's operational concept, and is providing support in the integration, testing and verification phases. It is doing so by offering the project its testing methods and the experience of its personnel in certifying military vehicles and in UGV projects.
ARCO is expected to conclude at the end of the year. The first demonstration was recently held on the INTA track in Torrejón de Ardoz, with one of the automated trucks operating autonomously and following a lead vehicle, which served to validate the functionalities developed to date. By the end of September, the final demonstration will be held with the three IVECO trucks operating on the INTA off-road tracks in La Marañosa (Madrid), in an unstructured environment.