Remote-piloted war machines have been with us for years, but new "TerraMax" technology from Oshkosh brings the video game experience to war on a whole-new level with third-person vehicle driving and a console-style controller.
TerraMax gives soldiers the ability to control multiple trucks simultaneously from a digitally rendered top-down or third-person view, just like a driving game. All with a controller that will look familiar to anyone who's ever taken a few laps in Mario Kart.
The system works by pairing GPS, lasers, cameras, and other distance-sensing equipment from the truck to a display and hand controller via satellite signals. The vehicles have enough redundant navigational aids to be useable even where GPS coverage isn't provided, because the TomTom app hasn't been to Afghanistan. Oshkosh promises control response is instantaneous, even over a long range but hasn't yet specified just how far away an operator can be to run one of these things.
The amount of information the system feeds drivers is absolutely amazing; analysis of road surface conditions, obstacles, surrounding land features— from a tactical perspective, it's almost better than the real thing. You could drive one of these right through a blinding fog or dust cloud at full tilt knowing exactly what's ahead of you.
To avoid overwhelming operators, the depth of detail can be dialed back.
In the event of a malfunction or damage to the truck's transmitter, the vehicles can fall back on autonomous operation to a pre-programmed objective and are still able to steer around live obstacles.
The US military aims to have one-third of all it's ground combat vehicles be unmanned by 2015. The government is already deep into testing completely autonomous trucks, and equipment suppliers like Oshkosh Defense are scrambling to create the best remote-control systems for the nation's trucks and tanks.
I guess I spoke too soon when I denounced remotely-operated off-roaders!