Neya Systems, a provider of off-road autonomy, open architecture, and mission-planning software, announced that it has achieved a technical milestone in the control of off-road vehicles.
The Warrendale, Pa.-based company demonstrated the use of Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) technology to control an uncrewed ground vehicle (UGV). The team used the UGV Interoperability Profile (IOP) and the Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems (JAUS) communication layer to achieve this technical milestone.
Neya Systems claimed in a release that this was the first time the IOP/JAUS standards have been successfully integrated as an ATAK plugin for ground robotics. As a result, operators can use ATAK to drive UGVs using common controllers.
Mobile Robot Guide recently spoke with David Barnhard, an associate division manager at Neya Systems, and Jeff Hyams, Mission Planning and Simulation Group lead at Neya Systems, to discuss the milestone.
What is ATAK?
ATAK is a collaborative, map-based software application. It facilitates user cooperation across geographical locations, said Neya Systems. ATAK also enables users to gather and exchange geospatial information, encompassing position data, terrain details, and real-time weather updates.
Neya Systems developed its JAUS networking layer to enable ATAK users to control IOP/JAUS-compliant robots.
Ground robots will be essential to U.S. national security, according to Barnhard. It is more important than ever for every stakeholder involved to have access to ATAK through standard protocols such as JAUS or IOP, he said.
“Integrating those with the Android Tactical Assault Kit, or ATAK, for government purposes is huge,” asserted Barnhard. “It’s really the first time it’s been done on the ground side. In the air, that was done with great success for many, many years. But on the ground domain, it really is a huge milestone — not just for NATO, but for everyone in the community.”
Hyams, who has spent over 20 years doing work on standards ranging from JAUS to UCS robotics standards, explained how the demonstration made these standards more accessible.
“You can download a standards document and start implementation, but we’re providing an ATAK and Android service that gives you the JAUS system and technical capabilities as a jumpstart,” Hyams said. “Getting that jumpstart on any new work and any ATAK integration work will give everybody a new way to focus on the important things and the capabilities, versus just interfaces and standards work.”
Neya demonstrates the new ATAK plugin
During Neya Systems’ demo, the company’s team used an ATAK operator control unit (OCU) to teleoperate an off-road vehicle. The OCU enabled the operator to communicate with Neya’s Autonomy Kit (A-Kit) and control the vehicle.
The A-Kit equips a vehicle with front and rear cameras, radar, and lidar. These sensors are crucial to enabling autonomous control of the vehicle, said the company.
“The main goal, the initial integration, was a functionality for guarded and unguarded teleoperation through the ATAK application,” Hyams explained. “So what we actually demonstrated was unguarded teleoperation, which is just joystick driving through a track with real-time video that you would normally see for just remote-control operation, and then switching into guarded teleop mode, which is a little bit more of an intelligent teleoperation.”
In guarded teleoperation mode, the user will direct the robot, but the system will autonomously avoid obstacles that might be in the way, according to Barnhard.
The team wanted to create a plugin that would be flexible enough to work in various Department of Defense initiatives, which means it had to work with different Android devices or robotic controllers, according to Hyams.
To do this, the team decoupled its presentation layer from the core ATAK and JAUS/IOP service. Users can then decide how they want to access the service without having to rebuild a plugin every single time.
“From the Android side, the ATAK side, one of the largest challenges with the presentation layer and the HMI [human-machine interface] is video latency,” Hyams said. “Teleoperation is a huge issue. We had one person optimizing video latency issues for pretty much two months straight.”
Integrated functionality to be fundamental
“By embracing open standards and having a transparent collaboration with the government, we’re really nurturing the entire ecosystem,” Barnhard said.
Hyams said the team wanted to make it possible for third-party organizations that have unique functionalities or capabilities to avoid writing an entire JAUS functionality just to get it to work.
“We’re a community of experts that want to contribute to the community,” Barnhard added. “So the best way that we can possibly do this is to create such a fundamental technology that everyone else can also use, on a challenging platform.”
Barnhard said that now that there’s a standard established on the ground, Neya Systems has opened doors for cross-linking between air and ground standards.
“We truly believe that this particular element is key and a foundational mission parameter from some programs’ success,” he said.