Their names are MASS (Mobile Autonomous Stabilisation System) and MARS (Mobile Autonomous Robot System) and they look like golf carts: please meet the two new unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) unveiled last week by India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at Defexpo 2016, held this year in Goa.
MASS and MARS are based on the same platform with modular wheels and an electric engine. Both can carry payloads weighing up to 300kg, according to the DRDO, and can be operated autonomously, semi-autonomously or remotely. The robots, which have a top speed of 10 kph, are big: 2m long and 1m wide. They are controlled via a wireless network – a simple laptop using software developed by the DRDO.
With its resolutely aggressive look, MASS is the warmonger of the two. It can carry a broad range of weapons (machine-guns, grenade launchers, miniature missiles), radars, electro-optical systems, etc. Its platform stabilised with a three axis gimbal allows the payload to be used even on the move with a maximum elevation of 30°. MASS is designed to be used for the surveillance of dangerous areas, and borders.
MARS, contrary to its name, is destined for more peaceful purposes. It is equipped for mine clearance and for transporting dangerous objects. Thanks to a “made in India” algorithm and a battery of lasers and cameras, MARS creates a 3D map of its environment that allows its mechanical arm to pick up an object weighing a maximum 10kg, according to the DRDO. And all this with surprising dexterity and precision, as demonstrated to FOB by the Indian engineers.
If a short demonstration of the two systems convinced us of India’s progress in the field of UGVs, the design of these two prototypes raised a number of questions. For example, the size and choice of wheels greatly limit the mobility of these robots on uneven ground or even on a simple slope.