Clemson, U.S. Army to develop next generation of autonomous vehicle tools

January 12th, 2021
Image of military vehicles driving on dirt roads.

This past summer at Fort Carson, Col., modified Bradley Fighting Vehicles, known as Mission Enabling Technologies Demonstrators, and modified M113 tracked armored personnel carriers, or Robotic Combat Vehicles, were used for the Soldier Operational Experimentation (SOE) Phase 1 to further develop learning objectives for the Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) concept.

Automotive autonomy technology is changing economies and global industries – and is also a driving force behind military modernization. Bringing these self-driving vehicles to life on- and off-road requires new concepts and algorithms to be tested expeditiously and cost-effectively – all of which happen through virtual prototyping. This key enabler for autonomy is the focus behind a new $18 million center housed at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) and a research partnership with the U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC).

The Virtual Prototyping of Ground Systems (VIPR-GS) Center will serve as the impetus for the research project. As founding director of VIPR-GS, Zoran Filipi will lead more than 65 Clemson faculty across seven engineering departments on the multi-year research partnership with GVSC to develop virtual prototyping tools supporting the rapid transformation of U.S. Army fleets. The research will be focused on autonomy-enabled ground vehicles, including digital engineering, next-generation propulsion and energy systems, and manned and unmanned teaming in unknown off-road environments.

The Center will leverage a systems engineering approach to propel research breakthroughs in off-road vehicle autonomy and vehicle propulsion. Research activities will also take place on Clemson’s main campus and will include learning opportunities for students at all levels.

“Autonomous systems and connected vehicles are some of the most significant factors shaping the mobility industry today, and the work being done in off-road autonomy is truly the next frontier. CU-ICAR was designed to foster research and partnerships to benefit our future. Through our deep research strengths and interdisciplinary culture, Clemson is uniquely positioned to lead the way in this important work,” said Clemson President Jim Clements.

Breakthrough research for autonomous off-road development

Researchers will build and validate various virtual models and simulations for off-road vehicles with advanced electrified propulsion, situational intelligence, AI-enabled autonomy and team-routing algorithms. The Center will support one of the Army Big Six Modernization Priorities – developing next-generation combat vehicles – by providing tools for technology roadmaps and hardware demonstrations.

“The VIPR Center will be an essential part of a Ground Vehicle Modeling and Simulation Alliance that GVSC will rely on as it leads the U.S. Army in the integration of new capabilities into military ground vehicles,” said David Gorsich, US GVSC Chief Scientist.

Three themes characterize the research efforts: Off-road autonomy for multi-scale vehicle fleets; propulsion systems and smart energy; and virtual prototyping and digital engineering for autonomy-enabled off-road vehicles. Models, algorithms, analytical capabilities and decision-making tools resulting from the research will be evaluated by building a physical mock-up of an optionally manned, non-combat, off-road ground vehicle. As the project’s final phase, discoveries and breakthrough innovations from the Center will be fabricated and validated via Deep Orange, the University’s long-running educational prototyping program.

The Deep Orange program takes automotive engineering students through a two-year product development process that culminates in a fully functional concept. The program encourages learning by doing, transdisciplinary teamwork, leadership and project management skills to best prepare students for the workforce. Deep Orange has been sponsored by industry leaders such as AVX, BMW, ExxonMobil, EY, Ford, GM, Honda R&D Americas, Mazda, MINI and Toyota.

Driving innovation through industry partnerships

The Center’s impact will reach beyond any single project by compressing time needed for design and development in the autonomous space. Not only will this allow partners to significantly reduce timelines for innovation, but virtual prototyping enables new design capabilities that cut across industry sectors and applications.

Center leadership will involve industry to amplify breakthrough innovation and translation. By aligning strategic partners with Clemson’s research strengths in artificial intelligence, simulation and advanced computing, the Center will fuel the next wave of mobility to be smarter, safer and more robust.

As one of the nation’s most active research institutions, the Center builds on Clemson’s national reputation for research excellence. Clemson was recently cited alongside some of the nation’s most elite universities as a top “10 Innovative Engineering Institute,” by Mechanical Engineering, the flagship magazine of The American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The Center is designed to accelerate the development and validation of high impact technologies, acting as a catalyst for economic growth. Driven by fundamental research, the Center supports South Carolina’s economic development efforts, industry innovation priorities and the development of a highly skilled workforce.

“This type of work is the driving force behind why South Carolina invested in our idea for the CU-ICAR campus, and we are grateful for the legislature’s continued support and the hard work of Congressman Clyburn and Senator Graham to bring this project to life. It will pave the way for opportunities for our faculty, our students and our state,” said Clements.

Funding for VIPR-GS is from the United States Department of Defense.


Additional quotes for media consideration

“For the last decade, we have diligently strengthened and expanded our capabilities to become the nationally-recognized institution we are today,” said Zoran Filipi, chair of the Department of Automotive Engineering and founding director of the VIPR-GS Center. “From our skilled autonomous vehicle research team to our unmatched expertise in advanced propulsion and systems engineering DNA, this is exactly the type of high-impact, multi-disciplinary, ambitious research challenge we were built for.”

“Our innovation campuses were founded to create partnerships that provide key research and learning opportunities to benefit South Carolina, the region, and the nation, and we are thankful for our government partners and their continued support of the CU-ICAR campus,” said Angie Leidinger, vice president for External Affairs. “This funding is a true testament to the value Clemson provides to research and industry, and we look forward to engaging corporate partners across the country to participate in this work with us.”

“This award is a testament to the transformative, world-class research we are pursuing at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) in the broader area of transportation,” said Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences at Clemson University. “Under the leadership of Dr. Filipi, we have assembled the world’s brightest engineers and scientists to work on solving some of the most compelling multidisciplinary problems in autonomous systems and connected vehicles.”

“This center aligns greatly with Clemson’s growing research strengths and expertise, as well as our robust workforce development efforts and industry collaborations that fuel innovation and economic growth. This is sure to be a win for Clemson faculty and students, the U.S. Army and the state of South Carolina,” said Tanju Karanfil, vice president for research.