Military Mule Vehicle Makers Look to Diversify

Mike O'Brien

The use of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) to act as mules and carry equipment for troops has been around for more than a decade.

UGVs are at an advanced technology readiness level and some have been deployed in battle zones.
But now big defense manufacturers are looking to diversify and explore new markets.

Lockheed Martin, for example, has been researching border patrol, perimeter security, mining, logging and construction markets for its robotic vehicle.

Myron Mills, the company’s squad mission support system (SMSS) program manager, told National Defense Magazine: "We are certainly looking at the possibility of those types of mission sets for this system and being able to take the man out of the loop.

Robots designed to autonomously carry gear for ground forces can be converted to other tasks, he added.

Mr. Mills said: "The fundamental technology, the algorithms, sensors, computing, things that we have done so far will be very applicable to address some of those other markets."

John Deere, which Deere introduced its M-Gator small utility vehicle in 1999 and followed it up with a robotic version, the R-Gator in 2006, is another company exploring new markets.

The company’s first R-Gator sale to the military, however, actually was for perimeter security. The Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego bought one to remotely patrol an island.

But while Boston Dynamics’ robot research has been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Army Research Laboratory, John Deere came to the military mule market via a different path.

The company began researching making its agricultural equipment autonomous in the 1990s.

They found that farmers could save a great deal of time, fuel, and therefore money by employing precision farming techniques.

By mapping out a farm beforehand, farmers could save fuel by letting the machine autonomously take the most efficient path.

The next stage was the more efficient application of pesticides and fertilizer and the more accurate planting of seeds.

The latest advancements in vehicles will come under the spotlight in IDGA’s Military Vehicles Exhibition & Conference later this month.

The conference, which is being held at the Cobo Convention Center in Detroit, is the largest stand-alone vehicle event in the U.S. For more details, go to