U.S. Army TARDEC to showcase latest vehicles at SAE Congress

  • 15-Mar-2010 11:22 EDT
The U.S. Army's TARDEC Autonomous Platform Demonstrator (APD), an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) test-bed, shows off its advanced suspension technology on an obstacle course.

The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in Warren, MI, America’s principal laboratory for advanced military ground vehicles, will display a variety of innovative technologies at the 2010 SAE World Congress at Cobo Center in Detroit in April. Its exhibit area will emphasize the need for close cooperation between the Pentagon and domestic industry to meet national defense needs in an ecologically sound manner.

“Everyone at TARDEC is excited to be part of SAE's World Congress,” said Paul Skalny, director of TARDEC’s National Automotive Center (NAC). “We couldn’t maintain our position at the leading edge of innovation without our partners in the [U.S.] Department of Defense and the private sector.”

Weighing in at 30 ton (27 t), the 10-m (33-ft) long Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) is sure to stand out on the show floor, he said. The HEMTT, which is designed to transport heavy logistical and supply payloads to off-road sites, will demonstrate some of its workhorse capabilities by carrying on its bed an advanced power-conditioning system for remote operations.

TARDEC’s Electronic Power Control and Conditioning (EPCC) unit is a mobile micro-grid system that can take electrical inputs from diverse local power sources of questionable quality, such as unsteady grids in foreign countries, stand-alone generators, solar panels, or wind turbines, and convert that raw electrical feed into high-quality power suitable for running computers and other critical war-fighting equipment. The EPCC was developed in partnership with NextEnergy, a Detroit-based nonprofit organization that works to accelerate research on alternative and renewable energy technology.

Also highlighted at TARDEC’s display will be its Autonomous Platform Demonstrator (APD), a test-bed for next-generation unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) technologies, Skalny noted. The APD is being developed in cooperation with the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University. Researchers there use the mobile robot to test advanced hybrid-electric drive, road suspension, and thermal management systems for future UGVs.

Before the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, he explained, the U.S. Army consumed an average of 50 million gal (190 million L) of petroleum-based fuels annually, but that figure has since grown ten-fold. For the Army to be successful, it is imperative that TARDEC and its enterprise partners continue developing fuel-efficient vehicle technology such as that employed by the APD. A side benefit of these research efforts, he added, is the dual-use—military and civilian—nature of the results.

The APD’s performance goals include, for example, a top speed of 50 mph (80 km/h), a capability that presents significant challenges for skid-steered vehicles. The lightweight robotic vehicle prototype, two of which are to fit on a C-130 transport plane, is also being designed to be smart enough to perform single-lane changes with no direct human control. Several examples of other military robots now deployed by the DoD in combat will also be on display at the TARDEC exhibit.

Alongside the APD will be TARDEC’s Clandestine Extended Range Vehicle (CERV), an advanced military scout vehicle that is intended for rapid, covert ingress and egress operations during reconnaissance, surveillance, and target-designation missions. The CERV features a lightweight chassis and a new all-wheel-drive, diesel hybrid-electric powertrain that produces in excess of 5000 lb·ft (6780 N·m) of maximum torque, according to Skalny.

The CERV's quiet Q-Force drive unit, which was developed by California-based Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide, can maintain speeds of 80 mph (129 km/h) and climb 60% grades—all while using up to 25% less fuel than conventional vehicles of comparable size. Whereas the CERV uses the Q-Force drivetrain in a diesel hybrid setup, the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid-electric car employs it as part of a gasoline-fueled system. Quantum has been developing its advanced powertrain for six years.

In addition to its own advanced technology, TARDEC plans to debut at its exhibit concept models of next-generation, fuel-efficient military vehicles that were conceived by students at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit.

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