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U.S. Marines testing autonomous GUSS off-roader

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     (TORC Robotics)

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     (TORC Robotics)

The U.S. Marine Corps motto “Semper Fidelis” is Latin for “always faithful,” and it could soon have a vehicle that lives up to it.

The Marines have just completed the first live tests of a new autonomous off-roader called the Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate – GUSS – that is designed to follow troops into the field, literally.

The small, Jeep-like vehicle was developed by TORC Robotics, Virginia Tech University and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) to carry gear and to evacuate the injured, without putting additional personnel at risk.

Based on the existing Internally Transportable Vehicle, which is small enough to be carried inside a Chinook helicopter or V-22 Osprey, the GUSS is fitted with a LIDAR scanner, cameras and advanced mapping computers that let it operate entirely on its own, or be directed remotely by a Marine using a Tactical Robotic Controller.

There’s no need for roads and trails. Just as a human would, the GUSS relies primarily on its electronic eyes for situational awareness, avoiding obstacles even in the wilderness.

In normal operation, the GUSS locks on to a beacon carried by a Marine and drives alongside a unit at a walking pace. It can haul up to 1,600 pounds of equipment like a four-wheel mule, including water, which reduces each Marine’s burden by 40 pounds or more.

But it really goes into action when the fighting starts.

An operator can program in a target location and send the GUSS to it, unmanned, at speeds up to 8 mph, to ship supplies to troops in need or to take the wounded away from the front lines for medical assistance. But it’s unlikely that it would ever be left entirely unsecured when carrying equipment or injured troops.

On the way, the tough little 4x4 can determine its own route to the destination, and it can even backtrack around dead ends. If it somehow manages to get lost or stuck, it can radio for help and an operator can take over remotely, using a feed from the onboard cameras to see what the GUSS is seeing. If all else fails, a Marine can simply jump into it, flick a switch and drive it at normal speeds.

The project began about five years ago, with the technology first applied to a Polaris MVRS700 6x6 side-by-side. But last year it was updated and adapted for the ITV. It’s a platform-agnostic system that can be modified for use on a variety of vehicles.

At the recent RIMPAC 2014 international military exercise, the GUSS was deployed with Marines at the Kahuku Training grounds on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Both TORC and NSWCDD tell FoxNews.com that it performed well, particularly in the area of casualty evacuation.

Much of the technology involved is already in use in commercial robotic applications, and TORC says a main focus moving forward will be to harden it for combat duty and to expand its capabilities while Marine planners think about how best to integrate this sort of tool into its force structure.

Still very much a prototype project, the GUSS has at least a couple more years of testing ahead of it before it’s considered for deployment. But the team says the technology could be ready to report for duty before the end of the decade.