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Staying ahead of the game

The work of the Australian Army's Robotic and Autonomous
Systems Implementation & Coordination Office

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An Australian Army M113AS4 armoured logistics vehicle

An Australian Army M113AS4 armoured logistics vehicle, fitted with optionally crewed combat vehicle technology and a remote weapon station, fires from a support-by-fire position during a human-machine team exercise at Puckapunyal Military Area.
Photo: © Sergeant Matthew Bickerton

With technology advancing rapidly, Armies that don't keep up will be highly vulnerable. That's why the Army's Robotic and Autonomous Systems Implementation & Coordination Office (RICO) exists. It investigates cutting-edge technologies and their application for the Army. These range from artificial intelligence, robotic and autonomous systems, and power and energy, to quantum technologies.

RICO Director Colonel Robin Smith said his organisation helps the Army stay ahead of the game so soldiers, and Australia, aren't exposed to a more capable adversary.

“With the rate of innovation that's going on across the world, we need to understand both how to use and protect against these technologies,” Colonel Smith said. “We want Army to have that asymmetric advantage.”

The RICO team is an eclectic mix, with officers with PhDs in artificial intelligence, computer science and quantum physics, and masters in cybernetics, along with a broad range of military expertise.

Colonel Smith emphasised the significance of these skills in comprehending technologies and their military applications. One skill set, quantum technology, is about exploiting the fundamental laws of nature, reality at its smallest scale. Quantum technology has implications for communications, cryptography, computing, simulation, sensing and imaging. “There's an incredible amount of potential in that range of technologies, with its true potential still to be discovered and understood, but we're certainly moving towards that,” Colonel Smith said.

Using advanced quantum sensors, in partnership with academia, RICO demonstrated a technology that can detect trains over 70 metres underground with something the size of a notebook, surpassing what was previously known to be possible.

Taking advantage of the electric vehicle revolution, RICO has a prototype electric protected mobility vehicle (ePMV) that is undergoing review, and was deployed on Exercise Talisman Sabre. Running an electric motor dramatically reduces the heat and sound signature, increases acceleration and agility, while dropping the required amount of mechanical parts by half. With enough storage to power the average Australian home for six days, the ePMV could also power a host of other electrical devices in the field, like robots and drone swarms, technologies that RICO is also exploring.

Another project is the autonomous leader-follower trucks, that can drive in convoys, reducing the number of drivers required - generating “logistic mass”. In June an autonomous truck convoy operated on a public road in Australia for the first time. Colonel Smith said they're pushing all these technologies to their limits with failures welcomed. “We're pursuing this idea of successful failure. There's no progress without it,” Colonel Smith said.

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