Neya: Focused on Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport Autonomy & Other Cutting-Edge Opportunities
Kurt Bruck, Director of Defense Robotics at Neya Systems, provided a high-level overview of his company’s competencies at AUSA Global Force Symposium & Exposition, noting: “We’re focused on the niche of advanced autonomy, perception systemmes and machine learning – all of the advanced emerging core competencies in the robotics field.”
And while off-road vehicle autonomy is a large part of the Neya portfolio, the Warrendale, Pennsylvania (US)-based company is concurrently focused on its technology underpinnings – the mapping systems, precision-based navigation, sensor fusion and using any type of sensor it can – from LIDAR, stereo cameras and GPS.
Neya is also attentive to another emergent defence technology thrust, autonomous convoy operations, in particular with large classes of vehicles. This is a complex mission, with R&D attention directed to: how the vehicles follow in different formations as they traverse autonomously; their networking; how they generate and share with each other a mission plan; and their use of collective intelligence on a mission.
While the unmanned vehicle sector veteran reminded MONCh of the quick pace of activity in the commercial driverless car sector, he also emphasised: “What is really interesting is the military vehicles are starting to grow into a ‘hot area’ as well – a lot of the larger vehicles that are traditionally manned are becoming unmanned at a real rapid pace, and using the same technology as the driverless car sector.”
Asked to quantify the pace of activity in this sector, Mr. Bruck replied: “We’re responding to at least two or three requests for proposals a month, mostly involving advanced vehicle autonomy.”
Neya also supports projects in this sector with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Activities of interest include the agency’s Squad X programme and Subterranean Challenge, whereby in the latter, underground areas of interest are mapped with unmanned ground vehicles. “And there is also collaborative control of ground vehicles and also small walking robots that will go into caves,” the sector expert recalled.
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Neya’s common focus through these diverse projects are advanced algorithms, to make the efforts succeed. And beyond that, “While everyone wants autonomy, most have a core competency in vehicle/platform design. Autonomy requires a niche focus. Neya’s entire focus is just on autonomy and provides the behaviors that goes on any vehicle – from legged robots to small drones to fixed-wing UAVs to large, wheeled platforms and even tracked vehicles,” Mr. Bruck added.
Asked to forecast emerging areas of interest in this sector in the next 6-12 months, the company executive concluded: “advancing autonomy into the UAV space – not mission planning because we have been doing that for many years – but going into tunnels with drones and avoiding obstacles – very few people can navigate a ‘very tight’ urban environment – the subway stations and similar landmarks. Detecting people as they navigate around corridors, and so forth. So, 3-D mapping from a UAV space is a ‘very hot’ area coming up. In addition, making autonomy robust and ready for fielding. The past decade has been experiment-based and now it’s time to field autonomous systems!”