A self-driving ATV? WFP and the German Aerospace Center will make it happen

Readying the SHERP for a test drive on DLR’s campus outside of Munich (Photo: WFP/Kenneth Tong)

A collaboration is born

As part of a new and exciting project called AHEAD (Autonomous Humanitarian Emergency Aid Devices), WFP and researchers from DLR’s Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics are launching a partnership to investigate how a higher payload of aid supplies can be safely brought to the dangerous last-mile using remote-controlled trucks; namely the amphibious all-terrain vehicle that WFPers know quite well.

Risks and rewards

When transporting aid supplies in challenging contexts, drivers are often exposed to risks, especially in conflict zones, outbreaks of infectious disease, or in areas prone to natural disasters. In recent years, the number of armed attacks on humanitarian convoys has also increased. This can make it difficult to access many destinations that are in urgent need of relief. WFP is committed to providing secure transport to reach these destinations with much-needed supplies. The integration of remote-controlled trucks in cooperation with DLR is a promising approach to achieve this goal.

The Project AHEAD amphibious ATV parked in front of DLR headquarters post-test drive (Photo: WFP/Kenneth Tong)

Alternatives and benefits

In some areas that are difficult to access, relief supplies are delivered by airdrops. This approach is cost-intensive and has a much greater ecological impact, such as through its fuel consumption. The aim is to replace them, where possible, with local, alternative supply chains. This is where the collaborative project with DLR comes in. “We are taking the regional flooding in South Sudan, where large areas are cut off from conventional supply chains, as an example,” explains Armin Wedler, DLR Project Manager for AHEAD. “Our project outline describes a concept for using robotic, remote-controlled vehicles in this very impassable environment to allow the completion of the last, most dangerous part of the route by telepresence from a safe place.”

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