Army Developing Robot With Deployable Shield

By Allyson Versprille
PUP-E concept

The Army Research Laboratory is creating a robot that deploys a shield to protect soldiers from bullets. The technology could serve as an alternative to robotic exoskeletons such as Special Operations Command’s tactical assault light operator suit, said a lab official. 

“A lot of people associate robotics with lethality but what we’re looking at is … [using] these robotics in a purely protective manner to deploy a shield away from the soldier,” said Shawn Walsh, team lead for agile manufacturing in the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate at ARL. The lab refers to this concept as robotic augmented soldier protection, or RASP.

The drone, which would be completely decoupled from the soldier, would shadow him or her and then quickly move into action once a projectile is detected, Walsh explained. ARL is looking at both unmanned aerial and ground vehicles for this project.

The technology could be used to minimize civilian casualties as well, he said. “The robots could actually be used to help protect non-combatant civilians too because they can get there faster [and] they can put up barriers.”

One of the benefits to using this human-robot teaming approach as opposed to the exoskeleton approach is that RASP can be multi-functional, Walsh noted.

A robot with a detachable shield opens up a lot of possibilities because “we can use it to mule stuff — water, candy for the inhabitants of a village, supplies — but when it needs to be it can become a protective device,” he said. “I don’t want to denigrate exoskeletons because they are definitely worth doing. But this just provides an alternative space that we should explore.”

RASP has the potential to be a less expensive option because the Army could use “attritable,” low-cost unmanned systems, compared to a human or an expensive ground vehicle, Walsh said.

A few working prototypes have been developed under RASP, he said. The personal upgradable protection-experimental, or PUP-E, uses a commercial iRobot as an autonomous mobile platform to deploy a “ballistically protective ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene shield,” an ARL spokeswoman told National Defense. Another prototype, referred to as “smart trailer” can connect with an unmanned ground vehicle. It can be used for transport and is also an “on demand” ballistic shield, she said in an email.

RASP is a long-term concept, she added. It will be anywhere from 10 to 20 years before soldiers get their hands on this type of technology.

Photo: 3M Ceradyne

Topics: Robotics, Armed Robots, Research and Development

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