Users Seek Missions For Unmanned Ground Vehicles

By David Hambling London and David Eshel Tel Aviv, David Eshel
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

These small UGVs are especially valuable in dense urban terrain and inside buildings. Users toss the robot through a door or window to check for occupants; they are equally useful in caves and tunnels.

Jieddo bought 100 each of four contenders for field trials in Afghanistan: iRobot's 110 FirstLook, Recon Robotics' Recon Scout XT, Macro USA's Armadillo V3, and Qinetiq's Dragon Runner 10. Recon Robotics is the smallest at 1.2 lb.; FirstLook and Armadillo weigh 5 lb.; and Dragon Runner is 10 lb.

The larger machines are generally more mobile, capable of climbing bigger obstacles and carrying robotic arms or other accessories, but they are less portable for dismounted patrols. They do share common features, such as lithium-ion batteries, handheld controllers and cameras with infrared lights. Radio control, which is essentially line-of-sight, works within a few hundred meters.

The Recon Scout is perhaps the only one that can be described as throwable. The makers say the dumbbell-shaped robot can be tossed more than 100 ft. The low weight also means that with a telescoping rod, Recon Scout becomes a “camera on a stick” for peering into inaccessible spaces. It is the most successful small UGV so far, with 1,300 in use by the U.S. military.

The defense side of the iRobot company is best known for the PackBot range of larger UGVs. FirstLook, introduced in 2011, was derived from a small UGV called Landroid intended to follow troops and act as a communications relay to increase radio range. Users quickly decided a camera-carrying scout would be more useful.

iRobot CEO Colin Angle says the cost of small UGVs “should make them cheap enough to be disposable” and distributed in large numbers.

The incarnations of Dragon Runner have been around since 2005. The DR-10 is the smallest of the family; the larger DR-20 is fitted with a manipulator arm as standard.

MacroUSA's Armadillo is modular.Options include a stair/obstacle climbing kit, turret with thermal camera, improvised explosive device disruptor; and robotic arm. A maritime version evaluated for anti-piracy operations would be tossed into holds and compartments ahead of a boarding team.

After evaluation, Jieddo placed a $14.4 million order for the FirstLook 110 and a $12.9 million order for the Dragon Runner 10. However, the decision was controversial, and Macro USA launched a legal challenge to the selection process, which it says unfairly favored other suppliers

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