China’s Army Hosts An Autonomous Robot Contest

Called "Overcoming Obstacle 2016"
Norinco Da Gou quadruped robot China autonomous robot

While much attention has been paid to China’s growing armed airborne drones program, the PLA is also investing in a major effort to develop a future generation of increasingly autonomous unmanned ground vehicles. “Overcoming Obstacle 2016” is a competition supported by China’s military, akin to the U.S. military’s DARPA Grand Challenges. The month-long contest ended on October 18th in Beijing, with several finalists in each of the five categories.

Teli Beijing Institute of Technology China autonomous robot

The first group, Category A, involved highly autonomous cars. The finalists included modified from civilian SUVs, alongside a tracked vehicle, “SMART 1”, from the Military Institute of Transportation.

SMART 1 Military Institute of Transport China Autonomous Robot
Desert Wolf National University of Defense Technology

Category B was all-terrain autonomous vehicles. The finalists included two 4×4 robots built from military recon vehicles (by the China Academy of Sciences, and the National University of Defense Technology’s Desert Wolf).

Overcoming Obstacle 2016 China autonomous robots

Category C involved small, tracked robots, designed for tasks like urban reconnaissance and bomb disposal. Beijing Motors and Qingdao Hi Tech Corporation were among the five finalists.

Norinco Da Gou quadruped robot China autonomous robot
China crab walker autonomous robot

Category D’s legged robots provided some of the most interesting Overcoming Obstacle 2016 entries. The three finalists included two “Da Gou” quadruped robots from Shandong University and NORINCO, and the Iron Horse, a ‘crab walker’ from Beijing Jiaotong University, which had pivot-jointed Klann linkage legs to provide greater stability and simplicity. It bears some resemblance to Chinese research on a many-legged, auto-cannon-armed design disclosed in 2014.

China MULE autonomous robot
robot train

Category E was robot cargo trucks. One finalist was a 6×6 truck from 5th Department of Armored Engineering Institute with independently articulated wheels, like similar to the MULE robot. Another 6×6 robot truck built by the Beijing Institute of Mechanical Research was seen carrying a simulated load. Sunward Equipment provided another finalist, consisting of two four-wheeled robots attached to each other, as a sort of robotic road-bound train.

North Spirit

The vivid display at “Overcoming Obstacle 2016” is a good reminder that China’s research in military robotics continues to grow, and in a widening range of fields. Other areas to watch include bringing in advanced intelligence (another field in which China is becoming a world leader), swarming unmanned systems, and unmanned-manned pairings.

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