ELROB 2024: Military robotics elite meeting in Trier

Real missions in real deployment scenarios are one of many features of the European Land Robot Trial (ELROB), being held in 2024 for the twelfth time. Military roboticists from all over the world will meet from June 24 to 28 at the German Armed Forces’ Technical Center for Land-Based Vehicle Systems, Engineer and General Field Equipment in Trier. Over the five days, up to 15 teams working in a number of different disciplines will take their marks to examine the current performance levels of their robotic systems and compare the different technical solutions. This major event is once again being organized in 2024 by the Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics FKIE in Wachtberg.

© Fraunhofer FKIE/Fabian Vogl
The tasks for the ELROB participants are challenging: At the 2022 event at the "Tritolwerk" NBC & Disaster Relief Training Centre in Eggendorf, Austria, the teams used their robots to explore empty buildings, among other things.
© Fraunhofer FKIE/Fabian Vogl
Up to 15 teams from all over the world will meet again in June to compare the performance of their robotic systems. The robots will also be continuously adapted and optimised during the five-day event.
© Fraunhofer FKIE/Fabian Vogl
Realism is the top priority at ELROB. A jury of international experts assesses how well the robots perform in the various tasks.

"The robotization of armed forces is a major and extremely topical issue," says Dr Frank E. Schneider, deputy head of the FKIE Cognitive Mobile Systems research department and organizer of ELROB. "But the technical challenges are much greater than for autonomous vehicles in the civilian sector, for example. Unfortunately, it has not yet been incorporated into robotics research as much as it needs to be." The origins of ELROB go back about 20 years. A NATO workshop in 2004 revealed some major development deficits of military robots, and so the idea arose of creating a framework to bring together international experts in the field, industry and the research and technology sector at regular intervals and enable a direct, face-to-face exchange of ideas. This idea soon became a reality: ELROB has been held in various different European countries every other year since 2006.

Challenging scenarios in five different disciplines

In June 2024, ELROB will be opening its doors in Trier. The organizing team from the FKIE recently published this year’s challenging scenarios in five different disciplines and opened the event for registrations from interested teams. "We have developed every task in the contest in close consultation with military users," Schneider emphasizes. "They are based on today’s increasingly complex military needs." Reconnoitering, transport (of wounded) and bomb disposal are the headings for the different scenarios the teams will face. Their performance will be evaluated by a distinguished international jury presided over by the Danish robotics expert Henrik I. Christensen, professor of computer science at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

There are no official winners at ELROB, however. The main focus is on the realism of the assignments and their strong relevance in a current setting. For example, teams entering in the transport discipline will need to get a delivery to a storage facility up to six kilometers away using at least two vehicles. The route will have some surprises in store, including static and moving obstacles, dead ends and sharp turns. In the reconnoitring discipline, the teams will need to search for objects inside a structure and produce a photorealistic 2D/3D map of the structure and the rooms in it.

Some unexpected obstacles on the route

Another assignment, called "mule", involves teaching a transport robot to move autonomously back and forth between two camps as many times as possible within a specified period. On this route too, the robot will need to identify and navigate some unexpected obstacles. Rescuing wounded is its own discipline at ELROB. In this assignment, teams will need to search for and locate wounded and unconscious individuals, and ultimately rescue them and transport them to the starting point. In the fifth and final discipline, bomb disposal, participants will need to investigate multiple suspicious objects in indoor and outdoor locations within a defined area.

Although there are still a few months before the official start of ELROB, preparations for the event are already underway. "We will once again be adjusting the assignments and evaluation criteria from ELROB 2022," says Schneider. For him, one thing is clear: "ELROB has become firmly established as a challenging exhibition of military robotics in Europe."

12. European Land Robot Trial

June 24–28, 2024, Trier
Team registration: The deadline for applications has been extended to March 1st, 2024.
Further info: www.elrob.org