A pilot program is underway at Fort Bragg, N.C., to develop the first autonomous car of the U.S. Army, to be used to transport wounded soldiers to the hospital for rehab treatment.
The three-phase program is being run by TARDEC—the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center.
The driverless vehicles will be used for short distances, at low speeds and travel on roads and pathways that don’t have traffic signs or lane markings like regular roads do, said Edward Straub, program manager for the Army’s Applied Robotics for Installations and Base Operations.
Army officials say the new vehicles will help reduce the amount of money they spend on fixed operations. Also, the specially-equipped Cushman Shuttles –essentially long-wheelbase golf carts –can eventually be used as the building blocks for automated battlefield vehicles, Automotive News reported.
“Our ultimate objective is to get the best technology into the hands of the war fighter in the battlefield,” Straub said.
The idea for the project came about after the Army noticed many combat-wounded soldiers were missing doctor’s appointments, partly because of the heavy traffic and difficulty finding parking near the hospital.
“Some of these appointments can cost $5,000. So, if the soldier is not showing up, that’s a huge cost. We surmised that by providing soldiers a reliable, personalized transportation option, we could reduce that number of missed appointments,” Straub said.
Right now, in the first phase of the project, there is a driver controlling the vehicle. So, soldiers can schedule rides on the shuttles and receive door-to-door service, along roadways, parking lots and dual-use sidewalks.
The second phase of the project is scheduled to begin this fall. At that point, the Cushman Shuttles will drive themselves, but an operator will still be in the driver’s seat in case of an emergency.
Straub told Automotive News that by late 2017 or early 2018, they’re expected to be completely driverless.
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