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DARPA's Concept Car Makes the Batmobile Look So Passť

By Richard Adhikari
Oct 13, 2014 11:28 AM PT

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency last week posted a video of an advanced concept ground vehicle under development in its Ground X-Vehicle Technologies (GXV-T) program.

It's not clear whether the vehicle in question is a light armored car or a tank, but DARPA wants to give it improved survivability through the use of advanced technologies.

The technologies might include visualization systems to provide high-definition, wide-angle views of external conditions for a closed cockpit; path planning, which would display optimal routes to take; terrain classification, which would evaluate the surroundings for optimal travel surfaces; sensors using various technologies to visualize the surroundings and identify and track friends and foes; and autopilot capabilities that would let the driver focus on more-strategic activities.

The vehicle will rely on speed rather than armor because the amount of armor needed for current threat environments is increasingly burdensome and ineffective against ever-improving weaponry, DARPA said.

"They definitely appear to be moving away from Humvees," said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

Humvees, which were used heavily in Afghanistan and Iraq, "really weren't effective at protecting against IEDs," he told TechNewsWorld.

Layered Approach

The GXV-T program will use revolutionary technologies to provide a layered approach to protection.

The vehicles will use less armor more strategically to improve their ability to avoid detection, engagements and hits from enemy weapons. They will be able to tackle a variety of unpredictable combat situations more efficiently and cost-effectively, DARPA said.

"They'll need armor for snipers and shoulder-fired ordnance so they'll be partially armored," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. "Likely less steel and more carbon fiber, or artificial spider silk."

DARPA is open to working with nontraditional contributors on fundamental research and development, with the hope of developing groundbreaking technologies, the agency said.

The GVX-T Concept Vehicle

The DARPA concept vehicle "is pretty cool," McGregor said. "It's basically a flight cockpit using all the latest technology."

However, humans "would still be a major point of error," he suggested. "I would do this without the human -- make [the vehicles] fully autonomous. They have the same problem with the F-35."

For path planning, the GXV-T vehicles probably will use Google Maps, or something similar, augmented by ground scanning radar and Lidar, as well as scans from high-altitude resources such as drones and satellites, said Enderle.

Terrain classification probably will involve comparing data samples from the sensors against a database of likely terrain.

Sudden changes in the terrain, such as an unexpected dropoff or sinkhole, likely would be detected by drones or any airborne technology keeping an eye on the vehicle and the terrain, Enderle suggested.

However, distinguishing friend from foe "is always a huge challenge, and that's why friendly fire claims so many victims," McGregor said. "This may be a case for having embedded technology to identify friendly troops."

It's possible that the vehicles will look for potential threats and move to avoid them, Enderle speculated. "I think they'll assume hostile intent and then, if they see an attack, respond accordingly." The vehicles could have an armed drone flying overhead.

DARPA declined to comment for this story.

Your Tax Dollars at Work?

Whether the program works or ends up being an expensive boondoggle remains to be seen.

"There are many hurdles on the way, including different military and government branches working on different and incompatible solutions," McGregor said.

All taxpayers can now hope for is that the GXV-T program doesn't end up like the FCS.

The U.S. Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, which was canceled in 2009, cost more than US$1 billion to write off.

Meanwhile, contractors are fighting tooth and nail to secure a $31 billion Department of Defense contract to replace Humvees with the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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