The Expeditionary Modular Autonomous Vehicle (EMAV) might look like an unfinished tank or that loveable Disney character WALL-E, with a working bottom half with no main barrel, guns, or even armor to begin with, but the EMAV serves a purpose you wouldn’t expect it to. Plus, they’re completely autonomous on the battlefield, programmed to help ground troops fight their way into victory, but how exactly does it do this, and what future does it hold in the military?

The autonomous vehicle features a diesel-electric hybrid engine that enables it to be more silent when compared to the normal military vehicle that runs on pure diesel or gasoline. It features a rubber track band, a typical track configuration that can reach speeds of up to 30 to 45 miles per hour, having a maximum payload capacity of up to 7,200 lbs, and a curb weight of 3.08 tonnes. It can effectively maneuver over challenging terrain across any battlefield. It is said to have three control configurations: local, teleoperation, or autonomous, and can also be controlled with a controller for both the vehicle and payload system. Sounds just like a video game, right? But this time, it’s not for playing around.

Well, What Exactly Is It Used For?

With capacity for up to 7,000 more pounds of cargo (or virtually anything you can think of), these EMAVs have a flat deck with a length of 3.84 meters and 1.5 meters wide which means the military pretty much has all that space to work with to transport anything it needs to and from the hot zones.

What do you mean by anything, you may ask. The Marine Corps has been looking into the automated robotic vehicle to function as a robotic stretcher, for starters. The autonomous vehicle may be programmed (or controlled wirelessly) to collect wounded soldiers or marines off the battlefield when they need immediate medical attention.

The Marines testing out an EMAV for casualty transport at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, 2021 (US Marines via Popsci). Source:
The Marines testing out an EMAV for casualty transport at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, 2021 (Lance Cpl. Emma L. Gray / US Marines via Popsci)

Last 2021, it was tested by the Marine Corps in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to be part of the Marines’ plans to move toward a more robotized warfare that can ultimately save thousands of American lives by not just transporting the wounded off to field hospitals, but also providing vital ammunition supplies, food and water supplies, and communication gear across terrain that may be difficult to navigate especially with unpredictable weather. More so, it can also provide significant cover for troops who are either advancing or retreating from a position. Furthermore, it can actually carry troops to battle as it has a variant wherein it is equipped with a machine gun to provide cover fire for the soldiers while it is transporting them. These are all functions that the EMAV can perform as part of the Marine Corps’ vision for Infantry 2030.

For easier transport, these EMAV was designed with a narrow hull, making them fit into the V-22 and CH-47 with relative ease. For the Marine Corps, it was important that the robot fit inside the V-22 due to future usage of vertical-takeoff and landing mechanisms for future aircraft. This landing mechanism makes it easier for troops to be transported in and out of places where there are small clearings. When they arrive at their destination at a live battleground, an EMAV with a machine gun mounted can provide the cover fire troops need to get into a better position.

These mounted guns can also be controlled wirelessly through an application on a Toughbook tablet. Perhaps the best example of this is the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station (CROWS), a remote-controlled turret used on Humvees, tanks, and other military vehicles. Interestingly, the vehicle can also act as a mine-clearing vehicle where it releases explosives ahead of its path so that if there were mines through its path, it would be detonated and safe to travel over.

“The battlefield revolution is here. Technology has reached a point where we can push robotic capability into larger platforms, stretching the art of the possible. This allows our Government partners to experiment with the right balance of assets and payloads to enable the warfighter and create a force-multiplying overmatch,” said then-Pratt Miller Defense Director of Technology and now Executive Defense Director Celyn Evans in a statement.

Army hackathon to develop EMAVs and other autonomous vehicles

Just last Thursday, the National Security Innovation Network, the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, and the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command conducted a hackathon to improve the autonomous vehicles to navigate over difficult terrain.

Such challenges that had to be addressed with regard to the vehicles’ performance was to improve the use of sensors to predict and detect obstacles so that it can assess whether it can travel over the object or not, to move independently of a GPS in case a signal is unavailable, and ensure its long-lasting autonomous system for different types of missions.

The competition had prize money of $15,000 to develop their proposed solutions further, making robotics and automated vehicles more reliable for future military uses.