MULE soldiers on

The Lockheed Martin Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment (MULE) robotic vehicle’s Engineering Evaluation Unit (EEU) recently reached a major milestone in demonstrating autonomous navigation over complex obstacles.

The EEU autonomously climbed a 76.2cm step and bridged a 1.77m gap without operator intervention, using only parametric descriptions of the obstacles and the vehicle’s self-awareness.

According to Lockheed Martin, this capability exceeds the performance of other high mobility vehicles, such as the HMMWV. Although a smaller vehicle, the MULE is said to be able to address complex obstacles, such the ones used for the demonstration at a testing facility, by employing it’s specialised articulating suspension.

‘We’ve now demonstrated mobility that exceeds the HMMWV or any other small combat vehicle,’ said Joe Zinecker, program manager for the FCS MULE at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. ‘The MULE can keep up with dismounted soldiers, and will not be restricted to roads or trails like most other vehicles. We are eager to provide this capability to our soldiers as early as 2013.’

The EEU represents a full-scale MULE vehicle, and is the largest robotic vehicle yet constructed by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control and its partners in Unmanned Ground Vehicle development.

The EEU was designed and built in 13 months by Lockheed Martin and subcontractors MillenWorks and BAE Systems. Since December 2006, the team has incorporated a series of hardware and software enhancements, and has subjected the EEU to a variety of risk mitigation challenges.

The MULE/ARV-Assault Light, a 3.5-ton class vehicle for the Future Combat Systems Program, offers a capability that will support the US Army’s transformation to a lighter and more mobile fighting force. It will allow soldiers of the transformed army to use technology to perform a number of routine or dangerous jobs performed by soldiers today, freeing troops to focus on their mission.

The MULE/ARV-Assault Light’s highly mobile platform is a 6×6 independent articulated suspension. Coupled with in-hub motors powering each wheel, the suspension system provides mobility in complex terrain, exceeding that of vehicles utilising more conventional suspension systems. The ARV-Assault Light version will be armed with a line-of-sight gun and an anti-tank capability, providing immediate, heavy firepower to the dismounted soldier.

The Transport MULE configuration is designed to support the Future Force Soldier by providing the volume and payload capacity to carry the equipment and supplies to support two dismounted Infantry Squads. Multiple tie-down points and removable/foldable side railings will support virtually any payload variation and will be suited to support the evacuation of casualties.