N232-080 TITLE: Self-driving Convoy Operation
OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Sustainment;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: Develop and demonstrate reliable autonomous convoy operations within narrow and confined spaces including negative obstacles such as roadside ditches.
DESCRIPTION: The Navy/Marine Corps Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS) provides a ground based anti-ship capability. The NMESIS utilizes an unmanned launcher based upon the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) chassis called the Remotely Operated Ground Unit Expeditionary Fires (ROGUE-Fires) carrier. ROGUE-Fires has several operational modes including a Leader-Follower mode which autonomously follows the path of the Leader Vehicle, which is a JLTV Heavy Gun Carrier equipped with the NMESIS Leader Kit. Leader-Follower convoy operations function well on wide roads but encounter difficulties on narrow roads, requiring switching to remote control operations. Remote control operation is designed for use at very slow speeds for parking and maintenance and are not suitable for convoy operations.
The current autonomy system relies on a combination of forward looking and backup cameras, RADAR, and LIDAR. The March Unit Leader (MUL) vehicle provides a video patch for the following ROGUE-Fires vehicles to follow. The MUL path is 18 feet wide, and the autonomy software keeps each ROGUE-Fires vehicle within the path. However, many secondary roads, dirt roads, and paths are much narrower than primary roads. This puts ROGUE-Fires vehicles in danger of leaving the road surface, possibly getting stuck in ditches, and hitting obstacles.
ROGUE-Fires utilizes sofrware derived from U.S. Army DEVCOM Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC) Expeditionary Leader-Follower (ExLF). The Program Office does not have the authority to release this software.
This SBIR topic seeks to develop and demonstrate safe and reliable leader/follower convoy operations on secondary roads, trails, and paths narrower than 18 feet, ideally down to 8 feet. The command to utilize a narrower MUL path shall be user selectable by an operator in the Lead Vehicle. It is expected that operation under these conditions will be done at reduced speeds but still faster than having an operator tele-operate the ROGUE-Fires vehicles at walking speed. Demonstration utilizing RTK software is not required, but is acceptable. We anticipate having the software converted to the ROGUE-Fire Kernel in Phase II or Phase III. Adding additional sensors, such as additional cameras, LIDAR/RADAR, or SONAR is acceptable but cost and logistical burden will also be considered.
PHASE I: Develop concepts for Autonomous Narrow and Confined Space Convoy Operations, detailing required sensors, transition between operating modes (path widths), fault tolerance, and failure modes. Concepts and Models will detail performance on various drive surfaces, weather conditions, on-road and roadside obstances including vegetation, and negative obstacles such as potholes and roadside ditches. System trade options, including sensor types, autonomous methods, and performance impacts will be completed.
Provide a Phase II development plan with performance goals and key technical milestones, and that will address technical risk reduction.
PHASE II: Based on the results of Phase I and the Phase II development plan, develop a prototype system. The prototype will be evaluated to determine its capability in meeting the performance goals defined in the Phase II development plan and the Marine Corps requirements for Autonomous Narrow and Confined Space Convoy Operations. Performance will be demonstrated through prototype evaluation and modeling or analytical methods over the required range of parameters including numerous deployment cycles. Evaluation results will be used to refine the prototype into an initial design that will meet Marine Corps requirements. Prepare a Phase III development plan to transition the technology to Marine Corps use.
PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Support the Marine Corps in transitioning the technology for Marine Corps use. Develop the Autonomous Narrow and Confined Convoy Operations system for evaluation to determine its effectiveness in an operationally relevant environment. Support the Marine Corps for test and validation to certify and qualify the system for Marine Corps use.
The potential for commercial and dual-use is significant. Leader/follower convoy technology in tight quarters is directly applicable to airport cargo operations, warehousing, and future road transport, which would result in fuel and labor savings.
KEYWORDS: Autonomy; Self-driving; Convoy; Leader/Follower; Image Processing; Sensing
** TOPIC NOTICE **
The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the Navy Topics in the DoD 23.2 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at www.defensesbirsttr.mil/SBIR-STTR/Opportunities/#announcements for any updates.
The DoD issued its Navy 23.2 SBIR Topics pre-release on April 19, 2023 which opens to receive proposals on May 17, 2023, and closes June 14, 2023 (12:00pm ET).
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|Do you expect the proposed solution to be a modification of your current technology? or you are also open to completely new solutions?
|We are open to new solutions, but we will consider the challenges, risks, and costs vs. the benefit of making the changes. We believe that upgrading the sensors and/or adding new sensors will be required.
|Given each of the sensors you mentioned (Cameras, RADAR, LIDAR, Sonar) have advantages and disadvantages; do you have any preferences? Any specific advantages or disadvantages / failure modes that should be considered with the proposed solution?
|Note that there are no Sonar sensors. We do not have any preferences other than caution on any sensor which has large detectible emissions.
|Any approximation of the size of the convoy? Should we consider convoy with a few vehicles or convoy of large number of vehicles?
|The portion of the convoy is one leader vehicle and three to six follower vehicles.
|Can you elabrate more on the type of the convoy? should we assume all the vehicles in the convoy are similar? should we cosider different types of vehicles
|The convoy can contain many vehicles containing the Battery�s personnel and equipment. The portion of the convoy for leader-follower consists of a JLTV heavy gun truck variant as the leader vehicle, with three to six custom unmanned JLTV missile launchers called ROGUE-Fires.
|1. The current system uses a "breadcrumb" strategy for the follower vehicles to follow the leader vehicle. How far are the breadcrumbs from each other? Does the leader vehicle drop breadcrumbs a set distance apart or a set time apart? Will we have control over this?
2. What exactly does a breadcrumb comprise of?
3. Can you please explain the communication framework in more detail? For instance, how does the lead vehicle communicate its path and breadcrumbs to its followers?
4. How does a follower vehicle traverse from breadcrumb to breadcrumb? What kind of control system is in place to accomplish this?
5. Is there some form of path interpolation or path smoothing between breadcrumbs currently?
6. Where is each sensor placed on the vehicle?
|1. The breadcrumbs are not a specific distance but a specific time. We believe the current rate is 5 Hz. Changing it is possible, but we must consider the challenges, risks, and costs vs. the benefits of making this change.
2. A breadcrumb is a LIDAR image which shows the MUL path, along with other sensor information.
3. The communications is via Persistent Systems MPU5 radios, equipped with Modules RF-2150 (S-Band) and RF-1150 (L-Band)
4. The follower vehicle has two major subsystems which control this task. The Remote Sensor Subsystem receives the MUL path breadcrumbs, computes vehicle motion commands. The By-Wire Subsystem actuates the brakes, steering, and engine. This SBIR focuses on the Remote Sensor Subsystem.
5. Yes, this is part of the Remote Sensing Subsystem to keep the vehicle�s motion smooth
6. The exact positions are CUI, but here are the approximate locations. The leader vehicle is a JLTV Heavy Gun Truck variant. It has two LIDARS mounted above the roof on each corner. The UWB ranging radios and RADARs are above the front bumper. The follower vehicle is a custom unmanned JLTV called ROGUE-Fires. It has the camera, UWB ranging radio, and RADARs are above the front bumper. There are two LIDAR�s, one above each headlight. Public release images and videos are available on DVIDS and searching for NMESIS
|ADDITIONAL DETAILS PROVIDED BY TECHNICAL POINTS OF CONTACT FOR TOPIC N232-080.
|These are the sensors which are used by the NMESIS Leader Vehicle and ROGUE-Fires autonomous vehicle. Additionally, the radio is the MPU5, with S-Band being the preferred frequency band module, L-Band optional. https://www.persistentsystems.com/mpu5-capabilities/
|What deficiency in the current system is causing the follower vehicle�s failure to follow the path of the leader vehicle when the path becomes narrow? Is it mainly related to the lateral position accuracy as compared to the leader vehicle that the current system can achieve? Or are there edge cases that are specific to narrow paths that the current system cannot handle?
|We believe the main deficiency is a poor navigation solution caused by inadequate sensors. The LIDAR is a 16 line sensor which limits resolution. The vehicle wheel sensors do not provide adequate accuracy and resolution at low speeds. We plan to upgrade the wheel speed sensors the LIDARS and welcome suggestions as part of this SBIR, as well as the other sensors.