Three types of robotised combat machines are being created on a unified platform.
Originally appeared at VPK, translated by Comrade Korolyov exclusively for SouthFront
Last autumn, the international exhibition and forum “Days of innovation” that was organised by the Russian Ministry of Defense, became a notable day for the military industial complex, which presented not only serial production units but also prototypes and future concepts.
In all the diversity of the models presented, the “Udar” stood out – it is a development by a “High-accuracy complex” holding of the All-Russian “Signal” Research Institution from Kovrov. It attracted attention not only from the miltiary experts, but also of casual visitors.
At the first sight, “Udar” is some sort of a hybrid between a reliable BMP-3 and some sort of a remote control module that was made by Tulskoe “CB” (constructional Buerau). But this first impression is misleading
“Udar” is not just a combat vehicle, it is a complex robotic machine that is capable of solving combat tasks in a wide variaty of situations.
“Today we already can allow an operator to control a machine remotely, while keeping the capability for manual control. What is meant to be done now, is intellectualise the control of the behaviour and movement of the machine considering the pathway, dodging obsticles, working together with drones. We also make the machine to consider tactical circumstances and landscape as it carries out its combat mission”, – Sergei Filippov, the chief engineer of the project, talks about the machine.
The hard path
“Signal” is developing the most important and complex devices for the Motherland’s military: systems of automatic control, navigation and topographical scanning, electrical and hydroelectrical drive units, hydrovolumetric (translated from Russian is literal) transmission, hydromachines, “smart” hydroelectronics.
“Works were conducted as early as the eighties. Works to create robotised machinery. It was a robot tank on a T-72 chassis. Those were the first and most complex steps. We had no experience and no elementary basis to go off. Nevertheless the Soviet military figured out how to control a T-72 remotely”, – Alexander Malyshev remembers, he is the head of the robotics department.
The new devices attracted immediate attention of the Soviet Army. Although, to realise a lot of the suggested ideas with the existing base at the time was impossible. In particular the robot tank would have problems with its weapons when being remotely controlled.
“We didn’t have the necessary electronics, optoelectronical systems with high definition cameras and long distance capabilities. But the main thing was – we needed very powerful computers. We had to develop small computers, calculate and create the necessary mathematics ourselves, etc”, – Malyshev continues.
Even though the development of the robot tank gave good results, the project was soon after stopped. Here came the 90s and the Soviet Union, the mightiest power on Earth at the time, broke apart, and the Soviet military couldn’t afford the expenses anymore.
Even under the harsh conditions of Yeltsin’s Russia, “Signal” continued work for the Russian military and state security. “In the nineties, we conducted theoretical research, calculated algorythms, created separate machinery and electronics, even though we no financing”. In 2000s, the Russian state started financing the military research divisions again, and, in 2007, as part of a “Filin” research, appeared the first light robot. “We used it to work on movement, remote control, etc. We had a big chunk of our work around its optical sensors and commmands”.
The scientists admit that when “Filin” was created, its electronics had to use foreign parts. But the main goal back then, according to engineers and developers, wasn’t creation of a robot, but working on technological solutions – algorythms and mathematical base in the first place – that would allow to create much more complex machines.
“To create a platform – is only part of the job. In building a robot, it’s much harder to unite all its systems, all its components, write algorythms of all levels, develop mathematical and program base. He who owns the maths and progams – owns the entire system”, – head of the robotics department concludes.
After successful work in “Filin”, “Signal’s” engineers took it upon them to create a robot that uses serial combat vehicles as its chassis. This project was called “Udar”.
“Why did we choose BMP-3? If we don’t consider “Kurganets”, this is the most up to date APC of the Russian army. Secondly, to create a chassis like that for a robot from scratch, we would need the most complex of works done, and it will take years. For BMP-3, there are already all the maintenance facilities existent in the Army, the military knows the vehicle, and knows how to fix it and work with it. The “troika” (BMP-3) is a rather complex machine of its own, it has a lot of electronics. But “Signal’s” engineers already have it under control”, – chief research engineer Dennis Varabin shares with us.
It is worthy of notice, that the military demanded that a robotised BMP-3 must keep the option for manual control from the usual driver’s place which places serious restrains on the size of the systems and computers, which already have to be small enough for the soldiers to fit into the vehicle.
All the “Udar’s” electronics must be inside the vehicle at all times – then they will be out of reach for assault rifles, shockwaves and shrapnel, and also for EM radiation. BMP-3 is a machine made for all sorts of terrain in any weather, so the robot must be able to withstand a variaty of temperature fluctuations and be unsusceptable to vibration.
“We have about 20 electonic blocks for this platform, they are spread out throughout the vehicle. We of course tried to minimize their sizes. The biggest one is just over 50 cm and weighs about 20 kgs. The smallest – about 10 cm, weighs at a few gramms. All of them are very hard to damage by blunt force, they are now being tested on a vibrostand. By the way, the armour of the vehicle partially protects against EM radiation. In future we plan to defend the machine more seriously, it should be able to survive an EM pulse.
“Our specialists are now working on command algorythms, movement, optical sensors, they want to make the machine recognise images and recoginse different tactical situations, think about how to behave on an unfamiliar terrain. These things are very hard to do”, -Alexander Malyshev says.
In future, according to the “Signal’s” chief engineer Filippov, the machine will be introduced into the world of AI.
“We are considering not just remote control, we are looking at artificial intelligence. The simplest option: in movement, the robot will be somewhere where there is no link between it and the operator. The system must direct the robot itself. Or, a more complex option: the robot will be given a path and send it, and it will do the rest itself. It will move, dodge obsticles. We are aiming to created as much independence for the machine as we can. We want it to think for itself, so to say, to make up its own mind and behaviour. We will give it a start point and an end point, and after that, the robot will choose what to do and how to do it”, – Malyshev explains.
One of the ways to make the machine as autonomous as possible – the so-called expert systems. They analyse the data and then make a decision analogous to a human expert.
“Now we are creating more complex algorythms, using the so called “soft logic”. We are making small steps, one at a time. It impossible to give a robot a task and straight away expect it will perform it on its own. This is only a dream, we are striving to achieve. The AI theory that was created 20 years ago is still not realised in its full potential. But we are working on pathway planning – for example, a robot creates a pathway itself and follows it, avoiding obsticles. Say, a bump in the road or a stone. We cannot possibly include all the obsticles, the robot will need to recognise them itself and avoid them. If it considers the obsticle unavoidable the robot will ask for help from a human operator or return to base itself”, – Malyshev continues.
Staying on target without satellites
It doesn’t matter how smart and autonomous the system is, without precise coordinates, without any data about where the vehicle is in space, those are inclination angles, direction of movement, etc, the robot will be unable to complete its combat mission. It will be a very smart, very expensive shed on wheels.
At the first glance, it’s not that hard of a problem. It’s solvable with GPS or GLONASS (Russia’s analog of GPS). But in combat, the enemy can easily disrupt the satellite signal coming from Earth’s orbit with all sorts of modern electronic warfare systems.
According to Sergei Filippov, the system created for the Russian Army is not only small and compact, it’s also very good with energy consumption which is very important for robots.
“Now our inertial system has a satellite signal correction setting, and to load all the so-called “intertial system data” it takes about 5-6 minutes after the machine is turned on. But we are working to reduce this time and to minimise the necessity for satellite assistance in navigation. And in future we plan to completely remove it as a main source of navigational correction and leave it as a reserve”, – Filippov says.
Currectly there are a few ways to correct navigational systems without satellite assistance, in particular using visual analysis of the landscape, somewhat analogous to what they use in the aviation. The system recognises various landmarks and compares them to what it has “memorised” in its database, where it also “knows” their coordinates and thusly determining where it is.
“We are loyal to our promice of maximum autonomity. When “Udar” will be conducting certain actions fully on its own, it is important the robot knows where it is and its important it knows precisely its position in space without any satellites. If a human driver can orient themselves on an unfamiliar landscape, then the robot must also be able to do that as well”, – Filippov notes.
Robots on active duty
“Currently “Udar” is being developed on the company’s money, but the Russian military is interested in our robot. Now we are going through all the paperwork with the Russian Armed Forces. The documents should be signed by the end of this year. And next year we will be defending our work in front of a special commission, which will be comprised of representors from various research installations that are under the authority of the Russian Army. After that, we will begin to work on it in detail. We are counting on starting to construct the machine by the end of next year. People need to understand that “Udar” – is a multifunctional robotic platform first and foremost, and depending on the task various armaments or other equipment will be installed on it”, – the chief engineer shares with us.
According to the military’s demands, the “Udar” will come in three types: reckon-strike units, engineering corps modification and transport/medevac type.
“We will work on building it for 2 years in steps. Firstly, we will choose and work on one type, then the second, then the third. We will begin with the reckon-strike version”, – Filippov says.
The reckon-strike “Udar” was the machine that attracted so much attention on the “Day of Innovations”.
“To arm the robot we use the module build by Tulskoe “CB” for Kurganets APCs”, – Malyshev says.
Reckon-strike robot wil be able to not only fire on the enemy with weapons on board, but also give out target coordinates and provide combat assistance for Russian Air Force and artillery, other Russian military robots.
The engineering corps version of “Udar” will be able to not only clear any obstructions in the way, it will also have a multipositional manipulator to use for its work with explosives.
The transport/medevac robot will be capable to transport various supplies and soldiers, and the main purpose will be to evacuate the wounded from the battlefield. The developers admit that creating a “rescue-ranger” robot is the hardest thing they attempted to do in this project.
“We were suggested: the robot will bring the medics on site, they will unload and load up the wounded. After that the machine leaves. But this was rejected. “Udar” will be able to load up the wounder without any help from humans”, – Malyshev explains.
We should note, that the developing control system will allow the operator to direct the actions of not only 1 robot, but an entire robot detachment, that will be able to solve a vast variaty of tasks.
This, however, demands a very complex communications system with a broad channel, that will be able to stream data and exchange information between the HQ and the “soldiers” and also be able to transmit visual images and videos real time. “Low frequency channels have long range, but low data capacity, higher frequencies are the opposite… We are working on it. We are also considering the drones, retranslator machines, etc. All have pluses and minuses”, – Malyshev concludes.
“Signal” managed to create a truly unique robot platform in such a short time. The engineers have set high performance standards straight away when the project was conceived. The results we have today tell us that “Udar”, undoubtedly, will take its rightful place in the Russian Army’s arsenal.
You can learn more about Russian military robots via: