Academic, private sector, and military leaders gathered last week for the NSIN Day of Autonomy to outline a roadmap for future concepts in autonomous vehicles and award prize money to innovators for proposed solutions to advance vehicle security.

The NSIN Day of Autonomy, presented in partnership with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E)), and the U.S. Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory (DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory), preceded the NSIN Hacks: “Off the Beaten Path” pitch competition. The hackathon event featured innovators competing for funding to develop their concepts for military off-road autonomous vehicles.

The Day of Autonomy kicked off with OUSD(R&E)’s Principal Director of Autonomy, Dr. Jaret Riddick, who led a panel discussion on the DoD’s view of autonomy and its strategy for integrating critical technologies through civilian-military partnerships. The discussion included information about new sensors, sensing techniques, and intelligence algorithms to generate actionable information for an autonomous vehicle to successfully navigate rugged off-road and austere environments.

Following the DoD panel, OUSD(R&E)’s Director of Defense Research and Engineering for Modernization, Mr. Maynard Holliday, delivered the keynote address. During his remarks, Mr. Holliday shared his extensive background working with robotic systems and demonstrating the impact of putting cognitive power in autonomy to work for the national security enterprise and the national defense strategy.

“I’m delighted by the efforts of NSIN and its partners the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command and the other Services. This work enhances a critical requirement aligned to the Department’s modernization priorities,” said Holliday. “The solutions tested during this event will help move this important objective forward, and the entrepreneurs involved in developing them will be critical as the military focuses on building its future capabilities.”

The day concluded with the NSIN Hacks: “Off the Beaten Path” pitch competition for seven finalist teams – each vying for the chance to develop their proposed autonomous concepts with military partners. The winning teams received $15,000 each to scale their solution with the DoD to innovate technology to match today’s modern threats.

Meet the Winners

  • MVision (AcuSens) - this team from the University of Michigan proposed an ultrasonic sensor for obstacle material analysis.
  • Ubicept - is a collaborative academic and startup team including individuals from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Silicon Valley. Team Ubicept proposed a concept for a passive, all-condition navigation camera and a system for non-line-of-sight imaging.
  • ATVision - this team from the University of Louisville proposed an enhanced approach to autonomous driving in rugged terrain using a combination of adversarial attack detection, convolutional neural networks, deep learning, and blockchain technology.

“The talent and technology of these winning teams showcase the opportunity for innovation and modernization inside the DoD when partners collaborate to invest in diverse, non-traditional problem solvers and help them develop their ideas,” said Mr. Kedar Pavgi, NSIN Hacks Program Manager. “I’m excited to see these entrepreneurs develop vehicle technology that will help the military safely navigate and reliably operate in austere environments.”

Autonomous off-road mobility is a critical requirement for military operations such as maneuvering during disaster relief or in rugged environments like tall grass, brush, or debris. Vehicles in these missions require sensors and software to navigate unexpected obstacles and have the hardware necessary to interact with these potentially difficult elements.

NSIN Hacks: “Off the Beaten Path” challenged entrepreneurs to create and pitch their ideas to advance three capabilities of autonomous vehicles. First, to predict and detect obstacles such as rocks and trees while being able to assess if the vehicle can travel over the object. Second, to adjust positions while traveling in locations without access to Global Positioning System (GPS) or while its GPS system is under threat. Third, to ensure a safe, long-lasting autonomous system that can efficiently complete its mission.

Watch the NSIN Day of Autonomy

Zoom Recording

About OUSD(R&E)
The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E)) is responsible for the research, development, and prototyping activities across the Department of Defense. OUSD(R&E) fosters technological dominance across the DoD, ensuring the unquestioned superiority of the American joint force.

About DEVCOM Army Research Lab
As the Army’s foundational research laboratory, ARL is operationalizing science to achieve transformational overmatch. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more successful at winning the nation’s wars and coming home safely. DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the Army Futures Command.

About NSIN The National Security Innovation Network is a program of the U.S. Department of Defense that collaborates with major universities and the venture community to develop solutions that drive national security innovation. We operate three portfolios of programs and services: National Service, Collaboration, and Acceleration. Together, these portfolios form a pipeline of activities and solutions that accelerate the pace of defense innovation.