LIDAR; global positioning and inertial measurement unit navigation
systems; Oshkosh Truck’s Command
Zone computer-controlled multiplexed electronics suite; and navigation computers.
It moves by drive-by-wire technology, with sensory information
fed into a computer that controls the
steering by a servomotor and uses
electronic controls for the accelerator, brakes and transmission.
“The first autonomous vehicle
to be fielded by the military most
likely will resemble Oshkosh
Truck’s TerraMax entry because the
military is already using the basic
truck it’s based on,” said DARPA
Director Tony Tether.
TerraMax was developed by a
team from academia and industry
officials, including Oshkosh Truck,
Teledyne Scientific, Italy’s University
of Parma, Ibeo Automobile Sensor
and Auburn University.
The truck in this year’s road competition is a sibling of the Oshkosh TerraMax truck that
finished the 2005 challenge in slightly more than 12
hours, driving 132 miles across the Nevada desert. That
vehicle was a six-wheeled MTVR designed to handle the
In addition to TerraMax’s obvious battlefield utility, it
has a unique autonomous package military developers
find attractive: its capabilities package is modular, meaning Oshkosh is developing it as a kit that can be installed
on its own vehicles or mounted onto existing trucks.
“The intent is that any truck we have in the future, from
an engineering perspective, would be designed to integrate
this technology, and with existing trucks, these kits could
be strapped on,” said Oshkosh Chief Engineer John Beck.
Although TerraMax had its difficulties in the Urban
Challenge, its makers said they would be “surprised if it
were a sensor problem,” adding they would not know
what happened until the truck’s data was fully analyzed.
“Some of the robots have had some hiccups … but
the bots are behaving no differently than you would
when you are driving on your way to work in the
morning and get a flat tire,” Schmiedel said.
In the 2005 race, several competitors went off
course, even the winner Stanley, Stanford University’s
robotic Volkswagen Touareg, which at one point elected to take a different route.
“On a descent, [Stanley’s] lasers looked down the
hill, and the robot thinks ‘there’s something in front of
TerraMax lumbers around a corner on the Urban Challenge course. At 13 tons,
it was the largest vehicle in the competition.
me,’ so it made a different decision,” said Antone Vogt,
a language theorist and software programmer on
Stanford’s 2007 project. “We didn’t even know that
route was an option.”
In the desert’s open spaces, Stanley’s deviation meant
a deduction on scoring, but with TerraMax’s wrong turn
in a city-like environment with other robots, traffic and
spectators nearby, DARPA controllers decided to pull
“It’s incredible to see these personalities at work,”
said Jamie Hyneman of Discovery Channel’s
“Mythbusters.” Hyneman and colleague Grant
Imahara served as commentators for the competition’s
The military is not the only sector interested in
Terramax’s technology. Caterpillar, a sponsor of winning team Tartan Racing and contributors to several
Urban Challenge robots, believes the technology could
be used in mining and other dangerous jobs, such as
“Our 797 mining trucks carry up to $1 million in cargo
in one day. The biggest variable is operator performance,”
Tana Utley, Caterpillar’s chief technology officer, said of
the company’s interest in autonomous vehicles.
Oshkosh Truck officials say the company continues to
develop its modular packages and fully intends to market
them to the U.S. armed forces once they are perfected.
“This is business for us,” Beck said. ■