Cuts in defense spending are pushing vendors of robotic mules for the military to look for non-battlefield market opportunities. While some of these vehicles can be quite large, the R-Gator from John Deere is basically an autonomous UTV. John Deere took their expertise developed for precision farming and transferred it to a Gator for military applications. One of the basic uses for these vehicles in a military setting is to carry some of the soldiers gear or additional equipment that might be too burdensome. For example, the R-Gator has been used in training exercises to carry 100 lb robots used for bomb disposal. The first R-Gator was used by the Navy for perimeter patrol. Typically these robotic vehicles can operate in four modes: autonomous, leader-follower, tele-operated and manual.
The civilian applications are potentially wide-ranging, encompassing any task that is “too dirty or dangerous” for a person to do. Manufacturers are eyeing emergency response, disaster recovery, security, fire suppression, humanitarian supply, law enforcement and agriculture applications. Learn more: Nationaldefensemagazine.org
Comment: If successful, this would join a long list of military technology that has found a fertile market on the civilian side. One related technology that is just coming to the civilian side is non-pneumatic tires for UTVs and other off-road vehicles. Polaris is one of the manufacturers trying to transfer this technology. The increasing capabilities of off-road STOVs are a good match for the autonomous technology of these vehicles that requires the ability to handle a variety of difficult terrain and obstacles.