The Savannah River Site is currently the testing home for driverless vehicles – one of the newest automotive technologies that military officials believe will be used in future combat situations.

The United States Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC, has a 30-year ground vehicle plan that introduced the technology.

Bruce Huffman, with TARDEC public affairs, said the work is part of a Department of Defense initiative.

The vehicles are called autonomous vehicles and are programmed to operate without a driver behind the wheel.

Huffman said the technology will allow soldiers to focus more on nearby threats and assignments.

The first demonstration run took place in Fort Hood, Texas, to test out a combat mission in an urban setting. Initial vehicle testing began at SRS in August 2013, and a more extensive demonstration has been taking place at the Savannah River Site since April.

“SRS was chosen as the test site because of its large network of paved, gravel and dirt roads and the ability to use these roads safely without impeding the normal traffic at SRS,” Huffman said.

Huffman said the vehicles are being developed because soldiers have to haul water and fuel on convoys in different countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. The convoys are often vulnerable to attack, he said, so the driverless vehicles will give soldiers more options in a crisis.

“We’re not replacing soldiers with robots; we’re giving our soldiers more options,” he said. “The cars can be completely manned, partially manned or completely autonomous.”

Huffman also said the technology could eventually be used in shuttles for soldiers on military bases or for students on major campuses.

Testing has been going well, he reported, and has included seven driverless trucks traveling at speeds as high as 40 mph. The next demonstration, Huffman added, will include more soldier interaction with the vehicles.

“The goal of (the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System) is to give the (soldier) increased operational efficiency and effectiveness with improved situational awareness to increase driver safety while providing improved operations in no/limited visibility conditions,” he said.

SRS spokesman Bill Taylor added the TARDEC group has ensured the Site’s safety requirements are followed during the testing phase.

“They have been working out of the old Railroad Classification Yard since April,” Taylor said. “The Savannah River Site is glad that our roads and facilities can assist the Department of Defense.”

Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June 2013.