Marionette™ Warrior FV510 integration

September 2017 – the British Army invites industry to pitch products for inclusion in Army War Fighting Experiment 2018 ‘Autonomous Warrior – Land’.

Concepts have to show how Robotics and Autonomous Systems can increase the Army’s effectiveness in future warfare.

Digital Concepts Engineering proposes the Marionette™ universal control system, a ‘toolbox’ of control modules which can be used to retrofit remote or autonomous control to an existing vehicle without fundamentally changing any core vehicle systems.

Following successful demonstrations of Marionette™ on the Sherpa-UGV and X-2 vehicles, DCE were asked to submit a proposal to integrate with FV510 Warrior for the main exercise. Sign-off on the project was received in September 2018 giving 6 weeks in which to deliver a fully tele-operated Warrior. The proposal was to include all automotive and turret functions, where possible (excluding weapons).

Sherpa UGV and X-2 test vehicles

With limited budget, limited technical information and a short project duration, the easily deployed, modular approach of Marionette™ was critical to success. The required functionality was derived from existing knowledge of the Warrior platform, supplied AESP and questions raised, and a “surplus” Driver Instrument Panel (DIP) was acquired commercially; this was identified very early as being the key point at which most of the automotive vehicle functions were controlled from. The DIP was then used to further define the control system functionality required, then stripped in preparation for Marionette™.

Also critical to the project was a comprehensive and robust safety case. An initial version of this was created by drawing on DCE’s existing experience with both wheeled and tracked vehicles and systems operating in military, civil and nuclear environments.

By combining a number of our existing off-the-shelf Marionette™ modules, the core control system was assembled in a matter of hours. Non-standard functionality was then added, for example using mechanical actuation for vehicle steering, vehicle braking, engine throttle and the mechanical fuel cut-off valve. A number of visits were made to inspect the Warrior directly; specifically mechanical mounts were measured for later bracket manufacture and test fit, turret control signals were measured and automotive signals such as vehicle speed and engine RPM were analysed. Linear actuators (both analog and digital, depending on application) were ordered; with a 4-5 week lead time there was no margin for error.

Control of the vehicle was to be done via a command console (using long range radios supplied by Domo Tactical Communications) or a Hand Controller (using short range radios).

Warrior control options – Hand Controller
Warrior control options – Console

Turret integration was performed by replacing the gunner’s control handle with a custom designed module (specific to Warrior) that replicated the power traverse control signals. Control over elevate in a Warrior is manual, so a motor/gearbox combination was constructed that replaced the standard control handle via a machined shaft adaptor. As the turret sights are slaved to the barrel, moving the barrel (traverse and elevate) is an effective way of controlling the sights. 

Remote turret control module installed (circled)

Design decisions such as the incorporation of an internal radio link (hull to turret) and the inclusion of “workshop controls” were made to reduce integration risks, as these could be comprehensively tested without the requirement for a physical vehicle, despite making the control system architecture more complex. 

At the point of vehicle integration, the control system, associated mechanical actuators, bracketry and metalwork, turret module and elevate solution, camera and antenna mounts were all complete but aside from the turret module had not been tested on a physical Warrior platform. 

Throttle and steering actuators fitted to the vehicle for the first time

With some great assistance from ATDU/REME integration to the vehicle, engine and turret was performed over only a few days and safety testing could commence. All integration issues were rapidly and successfully overcome and several iterative modifications done to the control system reflecting differences between vehicle schematics and actual vehicle operations.

Having successfully passed all safety tests the safety case was revised and upissued and testing moved swiftly on to long range testing and demonstrations, culminating in participation in the final AWE2018 demonstrations to VIPs and media. As specified in the safety case moving the Warrior between bases (Tidworth, Rollestone, and Cope Hill Down) had to be done under normal manual control so in each case the control system was removed and refitted with no issues.

Head of the British Army Chief of the General Staff General Mark Carleton-Smith CBE testing the Marionette™ equipped Warrior

Throughout the project Marionette™ has demonstrated the highest levels of reliability (as expected with core modules at TRL9) and this was commented on by the military operators. The DTC supplied radios worked really well despite some spectrum conflict between different UGVs and systems. Removal and replacement of the control system was done on several occasions with the conclusion that this can be done to any FV510, in the field, converting a standard vehicle to teleoperation in less than 2 hours, or vice versa.

This project could not have been completed successfully without the invaluable support from the MOD, specifically ATDU and Lt. Colonel Nick Serle and our radio suppliers DTC.

DCE’s successful delivery of a converted Warrior for AWE demonstrates that legacy military vehicles can be rapidly and cost-effectively converted to unmanned or optionally manned platforms. Such an option offers a wide range of new possibilities to the military including repurposing obsolete vehicles to act as decoys, fire support and in recce and observation roles.