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21 November

Remote control device carries live ammo

Robots are on patrol in IRAQ, and they are currently armed (i.e carrying loaded machine guns). They are not actually autonomous, but remote controlled, so I am a bit ambivalent about really calling them robots. They do carry M249 SAW machine guns made by Fabrique Nationale US (the US arm of a Belgian company [provenance corrected thanks to a comment, below]). They also have the capacity to carry grenade launchers and other product-dispensing apparatus. The robot does not seem to be the most stable one I've seen, and it uses pretty conventional drive mechanisms, but it's obviously very robust. In many ways the actual robot technology itself seems somewhat dated compared to what the research community is working on, but the application in the field is almost unique. The vehicle is made by Foster-Miller, and is part of a package called SWORDS (Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Direct- action System). Foster Miller is a large company that has supplied robots such as this for bomb disposal (EOD) application for some time.

(Note: this is not the same
model used in IRAQ.)

According to Foster Miller the robot was "... evaluated by the 5th Special Forces in Iraq and three systems have completed evaluation with the 3rd Infantry Division and [were] deployed to Iraq in 2007."

The M249 machine gun is fully automatic, has a maximum range of about 1000 meters (3281 feet). When loaded with the "preferred" ammunition of M855 Ball (whatever that means), it is suitable for use against light materiel targets and personnel. The military expects to use it in the near future to dispense deadly force. When this happens, it will be a dangerous precedent, but one that was obviously inevitable and which is a natural extension of existing technologies (such as drone aircraft).

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (2) or Leave a comment |    
09 December

We are preparing for the next Sea Trial for the Aqua robots. At currently have 3 different members of the Aqua family on the bench in different states of disassembly. In addition, we have a new network of sensor nodes being finished and readied for testing. Aqua 1.0, the original robot, is pretty much ready to go. Ramius, the next generation of robot that was tested last year is still in parts, but we had it together before and it should be a "simple" matter to re-assembly and testing. The newest member of the family line, Kroy, is also being assembled.

Robot Ramius with guts out

Last year we had problems changing from Nickle Metal Hydride battery technology to Lithium polymer technology. The startup ciruit inside the robot was not quite right, and the robot had a lot of trouble starting when the newer longer-lasting batteries were in. We have a lot of re-designed circuit boards including a new power controller piggybacked on the new motor controller board Chris cooked up. This new board will be used in both Ramius and Kroy, and they are both waiting for a few last-minute debugging cycles on the board before it goes into the robot.

More robot components

When all is said and done, Ramius will be retrofitted to be identical to Kroy, but with the field test coming on so fast this may not be possible until after the field trials. Other new technologies include lots and lots of stuff on the software side, including really untethered operation. Right now it's all pretty stressful for the team and everybody is juggling complex scheduling tradeoffs to combine research, end-of-term stuff, and robot assembly.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
06 January


One week to go before our robot sea trials. Things are pretty crazed. Lots of work to do and, of course, there are always those last-minute surprises. Kroy is getting left behind.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
15 January

Today we had a fourth great day of robot systems tests. We also had a small crew from the Discovery Channel visiting for the last two days and grabbing video, and a professional subsea videographer who accompanied us underwater.

Over the last couple of days we operated the robots from shore. This included the first serious open-water untethered test of the robot, and additional walking data on different kinds of terrain type.

The second Aqua-series robot was deployed untethered underwater today, and was controlled using hand gestures, visual servo control, and bar codes. Our collaborators from York university used the same boat dive to collect underwater stereo vision data.

Junaed, John-Paul and myself just offshore

We had a few problems, which is on par for this kind of field trip. This included one person with a minor injury, and a one experiment that didn't work out. As I told my students, if every experiment worked perfectly, we didn't get close enough to the line.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
18 March

The St. George's School Robotics Team, with Nicholas playing a key position, recently participated in a regional robotics competition. They built a robot that had to drive around under remote control and shoot bean bags at a large (30 foot high) score board. Their robot had an uncannily good throwing arm. In addition, they also designed and produced an shiny exhibition booth that featured a working animatronic flying dragon, and descriptive video (in two languages) and associated materials.

Unfortunately, they experienced an electrical short early on in the competition which badly damaged their hardware, and the robot was not able to perform well. That's how so many technology demos go. Nevertheless, the whole thing was very impressive. A big high profile competition like this is a great way to stimulate enthusiasm for, and interest in, science and technology.

The robot itself operated using a differential drive steering mechanism: two independently powered real wheels. Two small front wheels provided balance. As is often the case with differential drive, good straight-forward steering was tricky, but they addresses this by using a pretty large wheel diameter and comparatively low torque.

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (1) or Leave a comment |    
26 March

Well, you asked for pictures from the High School robotics competition I mentioned. Here are a couple of the team and their dragon-robot sculpture. Sadly, I have no pictures of the actual robot in the competition, due to the awful lighting.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
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