USMC Commandant’s Innovation Challenge

In September 2016, the USMC announced the the first Commandants Innovation Challenge, sponsored by Marine Corps Combat Development Command/Deputy Commandant Combat Development and Integration (MCCDC/CDI), and hosted by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab/ Futures Directorate (MCWL/FD).  The purpose of this challenge was to solicit innovative ideas from Marines, Sailors, and government civilians from across the Marine Corps. The most promising ideas will be selected for one of several possible pathways towards a potential fielded capability. Challenge winners will have the opportunity to directly partner with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory to further develop their ideas into reality through, prototyping, experimentation, and possibly Marine Corps-wide fielding.

The Challenge:

  • Identify missions or tasks assigned to your unit that currently requires a Marine(s) to accomplish, and that could/should be replaced by a robotic or autonomous system.  Missions or tasks that are prime candidates for autonomous solutions are typically dull, dirty, or dangerous in nature.
  • Identify systems or technologies that will make you or fellow Marines more effective, efficient, or safer

Evaluation criteria:

  • Creativity:  How original is the idea.
  • Collaboration:  Has the submitter worked with others to develop this idea.
  • Ease to implement:  How achievable is this idea.
  • Overall benefit:  What is the benefit to the Marine Corps.

Submission Requirements:

  • What: What is the end product?
  • How: How would this type of technology change the battlespace? How would it be used and for what purpose?
  • Why: Why is it an imperative that the Marine Corps pursue this technology? What advantage would it provide?

Results:

The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory/Futures Directorate (MCWL/FD) received 129 innovative ideas that were submitted by Marines, Sailors, and Government civilians across the Marine Corps. Four ideas were selected as winners with 4 semi-finalists selected. I submitted 3 concepts and one was selected as a semi-finalist. Below is the content of that proposal

sUAS for Hazardous Indoor Environments:

WHAT:

This proposed solution enables a small UAS to autonomously navigate and map complex indoor environments. This system would consist of potentially several sensors including sonar, LIDAR, and stereo camera systems that are capable of sensing accurate depth information. Additionally, CBRNE sensors could be integrated to detect potential hazards in the environment. These sensors would be mounted onto a multirotor sUAS that could be assigned to a Marine squad. This system would contain an onboard computer that would process the sensor information to recreate a 3D map of the environment. This map could be used to plan the path of the sUAS to avoid obstacles and to support tactical planning if the Marine unit is required to enter the building for an operation. This system would include a sUAS with the necessary sensor suite and processing power as well as a display device to allow the Marines to view and interact with the 3D visualization of the target environment developed by the system.

HOW:

Upon identifying a hazardous indoor environment, the Marine unit would establish a secure position while the sUAS operator quickly prepared the sUAS for deployment. The sUAS operator would chose between manually piloting the sUAS or fully autonomous navigation depending on the situation. The sUAS would enter the indoor environment and begin mapping every room or hallway. The sUAS operator would be able to monitor the progress of the sUAS and visualize the developing 3D map in real time. The sUAS operator would communicate any relevant information to the unit leader as the sUAS is operating and share the completed map once the sUAS has completed the mission and returned to the operator. This system would likely require training similar to that of other UASs to operate effectively. Depending on the level of integration with the sUAS platform, the system could rely on the sUAS for power and communications link with the operator or use independent power and communications methods.

WHY:

This technology will reduce the requirement to put Marine lives at risk for dangerous missions such as room clearing by relying on sUAS to explore the hazardous environment first. Therefore, the Marine Corps has relied on unmanned ground systems like the iRobot PackBot to initially explore potentially hazardous environments. Since a sUAS can navigate in 3D, it is better suited to explore complex environments and is not limited by ground obstacles. Further, this system also enables the sUAS to operate in GPS denied or limited environments. The increased autonomy enabled by this onboard sensing capability will allow the operator to focus on higher level tasks and decisions such as relaying important information to Marine leadership while the Marine unit can focus their attention on providing security. The sUAS will help to identify any potential hazards as well as provide a highly-detailed 3D map for the Marine unit to use while planning to secure the building and eliminate the hazards.

This idea was inspired by my research into 3D Mapping, Navigation, and Path Planning using a quadrotor vehicle.

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