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Automatic Deployment: U.S. Army Starts Testing Self-Driving Supply Trucks

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Self-driving military convoys were born from a simple calculus: The fewer people driving vehicles in convoys, the fewer people in danger if and when those convoys get attacked.

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In 2004, as the Iraq war entered its second year, DARPA offered $1 million to the team of robotics engineers who could make a machine cross 150 miles of the Mojave Desert. No team succeeded in the first year, when the furthest only covered seven miles of desert, but five teams completed the course in 2005. Since then, driverless vehicles have taken the civilian world by storm, with autopilot a key selling point for Tesla Motors and companies like Uber and Alphabet investing in their own autonomous people-carrying machines.

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So what happened to the military driverless convoys? They’re busy playing follow the leader.

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More precisely, the U.S. Army is testing a leader/follower system as part of its advanced Warfighting Assessment exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas. Two humans take control of the lead vehicle, and then up to seven other following vehicles are driverless, with autonomous systems guiding them to follow the humans in the lead. That means up to 14 fewer soldiers required for driving and navigation duties, freeing them up for security assignments rather than navigating the road.

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This isn’t the people-free convoy that driverless technology initially promised, but if the U.S. Army adopts leader/follower tech for its supply vehicles, turning the extra soldiers from drivers into lookouts and guards is still a significant improvement for security and for the safety of all those who are traveling.

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See more about the technology in this video:

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This story originally appeared on Popular Science.

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