China's Army Hosts An Autonomous Robot Contest | Popular Science

Eastern Arsenal

Monitoring China's growing military might—and what it means for the world. By Jeffrey Lin & Peter W. Singer

China's Army Hosts An Autonomous Robot Contest

Called "Overcoming Obstacle 2016"

While much attention has been paid to China's growing armed airborne drones program, the PLA is also investing in a major effort to develop a future generation of increasingly autonomous unmanned ground vehicles. "Overcoming Obstacle 2016" is a competition supported by China's military, akin to the U.S. military's DARPA Grand Challenges. The month-long contest ended on October 18th in Beijing, with several finalists in each of the five categories.

Teli Beijing Institute of Technology China autonomous robot

Hu Yu, Qian Xiaohu via Weibo


Teli, an autonomous, self-navigating vehicle system on a Toyota Land Cruiser body, was built by the Beijing Institute of Technology and is optimized for off-road travel, compared to the Google Car's urban and highways mission.

The first group, Category A, involved highly autonomous cars. The finalists included modified from civilian SUVs, alongside a tracked vehicle, "SMART 1", from the Military Institute of Transportation.

SMART 1 Military Institute of Transport China Autonomous Robot

Hu Yu, Qian Xiaohu via Weibo


The SMART 1 unmanned ground vehicle, built by the Military Institute of Transport, may have its basis in earlier Chinese autonomous robot experiments that used old armored vehicles. This chassis appears to be from an airborne fighting vehicle.

Desert Wolf National University of Defense Technology

Hu Yu, Qian Xiaohu via Weibo

Desert Wolf

Desert Wolf, using a 4x4 chassis from the QL-550, an armored recon vehicle, is another 2016 finalist for the all-terrain category.

Category B was all-terrain autonomous vehicles. The finalists included two 4x4 robots built from military recon vehicles (by the China Academy of Sciences, and the National University of Defense Technology's Desert Wolf).

Overcoming Obstacle 2016 China autonomous robots

China News

Category C

Category C, small, personal, and urban task robots, included several entries from civilian entities.

Category C involved small, tracked robots, designed for tasks like urban reconnaissance and bomb disposal. Beijing Motors and Qingdao Hi Tech Corporation were among the five finalists.

Norinco Da Gou quadruped robot China autonomous robot

Hu Yu, Qian Xiaohu via Weibo

Run 1

Norinco, China's top defense manufacturer of armored vehicles and munitions, entered the Run 1 quadruped robot into the legged robot category.

China crab walker autonomous robot

Hu Yu, Qian Xiaohu via Weibo

Iron Horse

Team Siyuan, from Beijing Jiaotong University, provided this multi-legged robot with Klann linkage-style legs (each of its four feet is made of two pairs of interconnected legs), offering exceptional stability on rough mountainous terrain.

Category D's legged robots provided some of the most interesting Overcoming Obstacle 2016 entries. The three finalists included two "Da Gou" quadruped robots from Shandong University and NORINCO, and the Iron Horse, a 'crab walker' from Beijing Jiaotong University, which had pivot-jointed Klann linkage legs to provide greater stability and simplicity. It bears some resemblance to Chinese research on a many-legged, auto-cannon-armed design disclosed in 2014.

China MULE autonomous robot

China News


The "Sino MULE", developed by the 5th Department of Armored Engineering Institute, has six independently articulated wheels to roll across difficult terrain while carrying heavy loads.

China autonomous robots

Hu Yu, Qian Xiaohu via Weibo

Robot train

These modular robots can be attached as a convoy, and can be programmed and order on autonomous tasks, like following designated persons and vehicles,

Category E was robot cargo trucks. One finalist was a 6x6 truck from 5th Department of Armored Engineering Institute with independently articulated wheels, like similar to the MULE robot. Another 6x6 robot truck built by the Beijing Institute of Mechanical Research was seen carrying a simulated load. Sunward Equipment provided another finalist, consisting of two four-wheeled robots attached to each other, as a sort of robotic road-bound train.

Beijing Institute of Mechanics Autonomous Robot China

Hu Yu, Qian Xiaohu via Weibo

North Spirit

Beijing Institute of Mechanic's North Spirit 6x6 robot is built for carrying large payloads (relative to its size) quickly over rough terrain.

The vivid display at "Overcoming Obstacle 2016" is a good reminder that China's research in military robotics continues to grow, and in a widening range of fields. Other areas to watch include bringing in advanced intelligence (another field in which China is becoming a world leader), swarming unmanned systems, and unmanned-manned pairings.

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