The U.S. Army may be getting ready to deploy follow-the-leader self-driving trucks, according to this report from Axios. The Army demonstrated new driverless trucks this week, which it hopes could cut battlefield casualties, more than half of which occur when soldiers deliver supplies in combat zones. The trucks would be deployed in convoys and would follow a manned lead vehicle. The report says the Pentagon’s 2020 budget plan includes $3.7 billion for autonomous technology development, about $350 million of which would go to the Army for self-driving vehicles.
Development of combat-ready autonomous vehicles presents challenges that in some ways are even harder to overcome than those facing makers of civilian self-driving cars. Driving conditions, including passable roads, could change very quickly. And then there’s the issue of enemy weapons fire.
The demonstration described in the report is just one step on the way to a possible future of truly autonomous battlefield vehicles. The report said military brass is enthusiastic, and that plans are for production of this follow-the-leader truck to ramp up in 2021. However, as AV programs in the civilian world have shown, demonstrations don’t necessarily mean a self-driving program is ready to handle the real world.