Bomb Squad Robots Taking Human Form

By Allyson Versprille
Bombs squads across the United States are seeking robots that resemble the human form as servicemen and first responders face situations where more dexterity and flexibility are needed, said industry and law enforcement leaders.

The joint program office for countering improvised explosive devices, led by the FBI, sees features such as dual arm operators as the future, said David Heaven, technical advisor to the national bomb squad commanders advisory board.

 “This is what they see as the long-range answer because every time we get into mission specific things, it takes another step in that direction,” Heaven said at a conference. “This won’t be tomorrow, but this seems to be the direction we’re going.”

Haptic technology — tactile feedback that creates the sense of touch through force, vibrations and motions — and dual arm capability have become crucial as the bomb disposal environment grows more complex, he said. 

There are several companies in the robotics industry involved in the effort, such as Northrop Grumman subsidiary, Remotec, and SRI International.

“As we looked at the requirements for bomb squads, one of the things that kept coming up was the need for greater dexterity,” said Mark Kauchak, director of sales and customer support for Remotec.

That need resulted in Remotec’s Lobster — named for its claw-like shape — he said. The technology is unique because it not only has dual arm capability, but it can be held as an accessory in the main manipulator of another bomb disposal robot. That allows for system flexibility, giving the main manipulator the option to set the dual arms down in order to complete missions that require heavy lifting, he said. Lobster is operated with a remote operator controller unit with arms that mirror the robot’s movements.

Advanced prototype designs of the system have been co-developed with Applied Minds LLC of Glendale, California.

SRI International’s dual arm manipulator, Taurus, has surgical level dexterity, according to company literature. The system is based on the same patented technology that enables the da Vinci Surgical System, a robotic platform that offers a precise and minimally invasive solution for major surgical procedures.  An operator can control Taurus remotely at a safe distance using haptic feedback via gloves and high-definition 3D imaging.

Topics: Bomb and Warhead, Improvised Explosive Devices, Robotics

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