Armies want autonomous vehicles to reduce the risk and workload for soldiers, and a new model is a prime example of how that will work, as Popular Science has reported. The excellently named Rheinmetall Mission Master XT can carry 2,204 pounds of supplies into battle, while operating over a range of over 460 miles. That would allow it to follow soldiers over rough terrain, transport a soldier or act as a scout.
The Mission Master XT, designed and built by Rheinmetall Canada, can handle sandy, rocky and mountainous terrain, even in "ice, snow and zub-zero weather conditions," the company said. It's also fully amphibious so it can float and swim across water with its full ton-plus payload or mount hills as steep as 35 degrees. At the same time, the massive, low-inflation tires can function even with holes as deep as three-quarters of an inch in depth.
The vehicle uses a diesel-powered engine to achieve its 460 mile range, but also packs lithium-ion batteries that can power electronics for up to six hours. That allows users to do "silent watch" operations like surveilling the enemy from up close without making any noise or emitting a thermal pattern that can be detected by the enemy.
It can drive autonomously thanks to Rheinmetall's custom PATH software and hardware that includes 3D Lidar, front and rear cameras and extra sensors to navigate where GPS might be unavailable. It also has a follow mode where it can track a soldier or vehicle ahead while maintaining a safe distance. At the same time, it has a place for a driver who can operate the vehicle with an integrated joystick.
With those capabilities, the Mission Master XT is designed to haul supplies, ferry humans and carry wounded out of battle zones. However, it could potentially take a more active role, as well. It's also designed to carry a gun with "much more firepower than the usual man-carried section weapon," so it could potentially fight in "wolf packs" with two scouting vehicles and four armed robots. In that case, it would be operated remotely and not autonomously, presumably to avoid any ED-209 scenarios.