The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has successfully completed the first round of testing for its Robotic Autonomy in Complex Environments with Resiliency vehicle (a.k.a. RACER). The goal of RACER is to teach unmanned ground vehicles to maneuver in off-road environments with natural obstacles, enabling them to match human-driven speeds in realistic situations.
During testing, RACER vehicles completed more than 55 drives, ranging from approximately 4 to 11 miles, and traveling at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. The vehicles were equipped with 360° range and image sensing, multiple radars for Light Detection and Ranging, color and infrared cameras, event sensors, and a bunch of other detection equipment. DARPA’s ultimate goal is to field a UGV that can take humans out of a dangerous environment.
That being said, the deployment of autonomous unmanned vehicles in real-world situations is still a challenge as drones are limited by their programming and reliance on actual people. In the recent war, both Ukraine and Russia experimented with autonomous unmanned vehicles, but they are still constrained by their programming and have to be recovered by soldiers if they are destroyed (which kind of negates the purpose of taking humans out of danger).
Despite all of the limitations, RACER is a significant development in U.S. military innovation, and representatives from the US Army and Marine Corps were present at the experiment to aid in the transfer of technologies developed in RACER to future service uncrewed initiatives and concepts.
While the deployment of robotic combat drones on the battlefield may not happen in the next couple of years, the potential for RACER vehicles is indeed immense, and they very much could become a critical tool for the military in the future.