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Robots Put Distance Between Troops, Danger

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2004 – U.S. troops are using remote-controlled assistants to find and disable improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Lonnie Freiburger, a computer engineer with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, wears the controls for the Omni-Directional Inspection System, ODIS. The remote- controlled robot searches under vehicles for explosive devices. Photo by K.L. Vantran
  

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The Omni-Directional Inspection System, ODIS, searches the underside of vehicles for improvised explosive devices and can see things a hand-held mirror doesn't, said Bill Smuda, a research engineer with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, in Warren, Mich.

Another device, the Percussion-Actuated Non-electric Disruptor, uses a high velocity of water to disable improvised explosive devices, noted David Kowachek, project engineer with the center. The PAN Disruptor can be mounted on a small unmanned ground vehicle, such as a Talon, to give explosives experts access via remote control to suspected bomb sites.

Both remote-controlled vehicles allow troops to do their jobs from a distance. Examples of both vehicles were on display in the Russell Senate Office Building here July 23.

ODIS stands about 4 inches high, weighs 40 pounds and is like a "hovercraft on wheels," said Smuda. "It can move in circles or go sideways."

The operator can be up to 100 meters away from the vehicle being inspected as he maneuvers the robot underneath the chassis. "Robotics is a good tool to save people's lives," said Smuda. "It gets kids out of harm's way. It gets soldiers out of the line of fire, out of the blast zone."

The controls for the robot are portable. The control panel may be strapped to the operator's leg, while the case for the small video screen, which shows images from the robot, can be worn as a vest.

Smuda and coworkers recently spent two months in Iraq and Afghanistan testing and making some refinements to the system. They trained 40 soldiers on how to operate the robot. After about a half-day of hands-on training, Smuda said, the soldiers get a good feeling for operating the small robot.

"They learn what to look for -- especially clean areas, especially dirty areas, loose wires," he added.

The Talon, which weighs about 80 pounds, can hold up to seven cameras that feed images back to screens on a control box. The range of the robot varies with the environment, noted Kowachek. "On flat terrain, soldiers can be as far as a mile away."

The Talon also has lights to enhance night maneuvers and is quite rugged, he added. "It can climb rocks, go through sand and mud."

There are about 50 Talons with the mounted disruptor in theater now, said Kowachek.

Although the Talon is one of the larger unmanned ground vehicles, the engineer said the soldiers like it. "It does what they need it to do," he added.

The remote-controlled robot allows troops to investigate suspected explosive devices while minimizing the danger. "It keeps troops away from vehicles or from being lured into places where they could be shot at by snipers," said Kowachek.

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Related Sites:
U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center

Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe remote-controlled robot Omni-Directional Inspection System is designed to search under vehicles for explosive devices. It stands about 4 inches high and weighs about 40 pounds. Photo by K.L. Vantran  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDavid Kowachek, a project engineer with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, monitors the screen of the robot TALON unmanned ground vehicle. The remote-controlled device uses a high velocity of water to disable improvised explosive devices. Photo by K.L. Vantran  
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