Sandy firm develops 'robo' vehicle

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SANDY — Remember the old "Knight Rider" TV show where David Hasselhoff drove a Trans Am that spoke to him and pretty much operated on its own?

Well, a small local company has developed technology that actually programs vehicles to drive themselves — minus the verbal interaction.

Kairos Automoni recently won a $5.1 million contract with Naval Air Systems Command for the Navy Moving Land Target Program to outfit military training vehicles with the company's Pronto4 technology.

The Pronto4 system is a robotic appliqué kit that enables vehicles to drive themselves by following a pre-defined GPS path or via remote control. The Navy intends to use the Pronto4 systems on pickup trucks that will be used as unmanned moving targets Navy pilots can fire upon during training exercises.

The vehicles will be used nationwide as part of the Navy’s fleet training requirements, which offers Naval aviators the opportunity to engage in realistic training on moving land targets.

The target vehicles are meant to act and look like an enemy combatant vehicle that often resembles an unmarked pickup truck with a machine gun or other mounted weapon or as simply a truck load of enemy combatants, said Troy Takach, president and chief executive officer of Kairos Autonomi.

"The ability to have threat representative targets in training sharpens our aviation warfighter's ability to remove threats effectively while minimizing collateral damage," he said.

Under the terms of this current agreement, the company will supply the kits and the vehicles for the training program, Takach said.

Started in 2006, Kairos Autonomi employs 14 people — mostly systems engineers — at its facility in an industrial park in Sandy.

The Windows-based Pronto4 system hardware can be installed in virtually any vehicle and is able to track — almost exactly — the course and speed the driver takes before bringing the vehicle back to its original starting point, said systems engineer Donnie Kearns.

"Within a foot of your tire track … your can run a route," he said. "You can use (the system) on jet skis, a regular car, Humvees, trucks … and we've done it on a boat."

He said the system hasn't been used on motorcycles yet, but has worked on 4-wheelers and heavy equipment such as front-end loaders.

"As long as it's got a brake and a gas pedal and a transmission shift(er) … we can run it," Kearns said.

In most cases, the kits can be installed in less than four hours, according to communications and marketing manager Thomas Grover. "It really gives the military a capability it has never had before," he said.

Though currently used exclusively for military applications, Grover said testing is in the works to use the system for range clearance operations (using bulldozers), agricultural applications and eventually into mining as well other industrial and commercial applications.

As for eventually having such a system in a soccer mom's SUV, an everyday sedan or a pickup for a road trip to Moab, he said that day may not be all that far away.

"It's coming," he said. "There are already people working to create not just 'smart' vehicles, but 'smart' roads with sensors that gauge traffic. If you live long enough, (your car) will probably be able to drive you to Moab."

Story written by Jasen Lee with contributions from Keith McCord.


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