Military transportation robot Part 2: Who drives? Who's the best gamer?


Unmodified Autonomous R-Gator - Source: John DeereMTRMS: A new class of robot is joining the troops on the front lines, it is known as Military Transportation Robot, Medium Size (MTRMS ). Robots smaller have been in use for several years, larger ones are in the planning stage which is what makes the R-Gator a Medium size military robot. Who gets to drive when it's not in full autonomous mode? Who's the best gamer? (See below.)

The picture above is what the stock R-Gator, fresh off the Charlotte, North Carolina assembly line, looks like.  It can drive itself autonomously.


The stock R-Gator, built to the specifications in the brochure [see here:], costs government agencies $350,000 and is considered a COTS vehicle.  If you would like to see it in action, your best bet is to travel to one of the conventions, trade shows, or field events where R-Gator is being demonstrated.  Contact Mark E. Bodwell at (919) 804-2251. for the schedule of upcoming R-Gator demonstrations.

The published R-Gator speed is 35 mph, in Manual Mode.  In Full-Auto Mode, the R-Gator is limited to 5 mph.  For comparison John Deere agricultural tractors are limited to 18 mph in Full-Auto and the Google Autonomous Car [See ], travels at normal highway speed, 70 mph, in Full-Auto Mode.


Speed, direction of travel, and position within 4 inches are determined by NavCom GPS, inertial navigation, and precision odometry.  Positive and negative obstacles such as holes and cliffs are avoided by using two forward, one rear looking SICK laser range sensors.  The SICK lasers produce a planar laser fan that can “broom” the area ahead of the vehicle as it moves.

The electric rack and pinion power steering used on the R-Gator is from John Deere’s golf course greens mower.  The engine is a 25 hp diesel; liquid-cooled, running on JP-8 fuel, connected to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), much like on a golf cart or snow mobile.  The 5 gallon tank gives the vehicle a 300 mile range which implies a fuel efficiency of 56 miles per gallon, not bad for a four wheel drive vehicle.

Using what customers already know makes big difference in training time.

Marks job is to build business relationships with the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen who use John Deere military products every day.  Their comments and suggestions guide John Deere in developing improved military ground vehicles.  To do this Mark travels extensively putting on demonstrations and leading training exercises with his JP-8 fueled diesel R-Gator.  JP-8 is the universal fuel used for everything the US Army owns, trucks, tanks, helicopters, generators, and now R-Gators.

In the telephone interview, Mark Bodwell explained: “Training with the early ‘Engineer Interface’ overloaded the 17 to 20 year olds learning to operate the R-Gator and took 3 weeks to accomplish the training.  When leading the training at Ft. Benning I noticed that in their off time the soldiers were experts at playing Halo and America’s Army using the X-Box controller.  When we adopted the X-Box controller for tele-operation of the R-Gator it changed the character of the training from intensive study to play.  Now for training all I do is ask the squad ‘Who is your best gamer?’ they point and I toss the controller to that person.  In 30 minutes or less they have the R-Gator up and running.”

I will be tracking down the details of the electric power steering system in R-Gator Part 3. Read Part 1 and see more photos:

John Deere’s Robot Gator – Part 1 - revolutionary change

Pass along the link to other interested in roving robots:


Paul F. Grayson - Chief Engineer, AMERICAN INDUSTRIAL MAGIC, LLC

"Small engine and machinery repair"

TC TINKERS 4-H ROBOT CLUB "Science, Engineering, and Technology"

390 4-Mile Rd. S., Traverse City, MI 49685

(231) 883-4463 Cell


TC Tinkers 4-H Robot Club:

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