Show to Display Military Land, Sea, Ground Robots

WASHINGTON — For four days next week, more than 6,000 experts from 30 coun­tries will gath­er here for this year’s largest robot and unmanned sys­tems show.
Held by the Asso­ci­a­tion for Unmanned Vehi­cle Sys­tems Inter­na­tion­al, called AUVSI, Unmanned Sys­tems North Amer­i­ca 2011 will fea­ture work­shops, pan­els and demon­stra­tions of robots used by the mil­i­tary ser­vices, civ­il and law enforce­ment agen­cies and the com­mer­cial sec­tor.

RQ-4 Global Hawk
An RQ-4 Glob­al Hawk like the one pic­tured was used to assist Japan in dis­as­ter relief and recov­ery efforts.
U.S. Air Force pho­to by Senior Air­man Nichelle Ander­son
Click to enlarge

The con­fer­ence will run Aug. 16–19 at the Wal­ter E. Wash­ing­ton Con­ven­tion Cen­ter here, and ser­vice mem­bers, police and oth­er pub­lic ser­vants in uni­form will have free access to the exhib­it hall and to con­fer­ence pan­els on the final day.

“Robots are key — we’ve seen this through­out the mil­i­tary and first respon­der oper­a­tions over the last decade in par­tic­u­lar — to extend­ing the dis­tance between oper­a­tors and the dan­ger­ous envi­ron­ments in which they oper­ate,” said Char­lie Dean, direc­tor of busi­ness devel­op­ment in the Unmanned Sys­tems Group of Qine­tiq North Amer­i­ca.

He spoke to reporters dur­ing an Aug. 10 brief­ing at the Nation­al Press Club about the upcom­ing con­fer­ence.

Dean, a retired Army lieu­tenant colonel and para­troop­er with com­bat deploy­ments to Iraq and Afghanistan, said a rev­o­lu­tion is occur­ring today in auto­mat­ed sys­tems for use in the air, on the ground and on and under the sea.

“The alter­na­tive to using unmanned sys­tems,” he said, “is human expo­sure.”

More than 3,000 of Qine­tiq North America’s Talon robots have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, main­ly to deal with impro­vised explo­sive devices and road­side bombs, accord­ing to the British glob­al defense tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny.

Qine­tiq is one of more than 450 exhibitors who will demon­strate auto­mat­ed sys­tems and oth­er prod­ucts at the con­fer­ence.

Anoth­er is iRo­bot Corp., a Mass­a­chu­setts advanced-tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny whose ground and marine robots — includ­ing Pack­Bot, Ranger, War­rior, Seaglid­er and oth­ers — are sup­port­ing the Army and oth­er mil­i­tary ser­vices.

David “Dun­can” Hines, vice pres­i­dent of the iRo­bot Mar­itime Divi­sion, said iRo­bot deployed Seaglid­er, its under­wa­ter robot, worked dur­ing the three-month-long 2010 Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon oil spill.

Seaglid­er offered a way to track oil plumes below the sur­face of the Gulf of Mex­i­co and oper­at­ed in the water for 90 days, the retired Marine Corps major gen­er­al added.

At Japan’s request, iRo­bot was one of sev­er­al U.S. and inter­na­tion­al com­pa­nies that deployed robots into the Fukushi­ma Dai­ichi Nuclear Pow­er Plant soon after Japan’s dead­ly earth­quake and tsuna­mi in March.

The com­pa­ny sent two 30-pound and two 300-pound robots to the sta­tion site with­in a week of the dis­as­ter, Hines said, along with six employ­ees who went to assem­ble the robots and train Japan­ese oper­a­tors.

The robots, he added, equipped with strap-on radi­a­tion sen­sors, were the first robots into the reac­tor cell and pro­vid­ed first access to unit one.

“On June 6 we pro­vid­ed the first indi­ca­tions going into Unit 1 of radi­a­tion lev­els [the robots] were see­ing due to steam upris­ings,” Hines said.

“We saw radi­a­tion lev­els of over 4,000 microsiev­erts,” he added, and lat­er saw high­er read­ings.

“To put that into per­spec­tive,” Hines said, “4,000 microsiev­erts for human beings means death in 90 min­utes.”

The robots, he added, are still at work today in the pow­er plant.

Also at work in war zones, over nation­al bor­ders and in dis­as­ter areas are unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles like the Preda­tor unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles and the Northrop Grum­man-built RQ-4 Glob­al Hawk.

John Prid­dy, direc­tor of the U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Protection’s Nation­al Air Secu­ri­ty Oper­a­tions Cen­ter in Grand Forks, N.D., said his orga­ni­za­tion oper­ates two MQ-9 Preda­tors. “More specif­i­cal­ly,” he added, “we have sev­en MQ-9s oper­at­ing in U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion and short­ly we should have nine.”

They’ve used the unmanned air­craft pri­mar­i­ly for law enforce­ment pur­pos­es, Prid­dy said, “but resid­ing with­in the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, we have had rea­son to apply the tech­nolo­gies toward dis­as­ter relief and civ­il sup­port oper­a­tions,” includ­ing Cal­i­for­nia wild­fires.

The Glob­al Hawk is being used in Afghanistan but it also has been used in dis­as­ter-relief efforts like the Jan­u­ary 2010 earth­quake in Haiti and in Japan.

“The Glob­al Hawk is a high-alti­tude, long-endurance asset, so it’s an unmanned sys­tem,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Thomas, the func­tion­al man­ag­er for the $13 bil­lion Air Force RQ-4 Glob­al Hawk pro­gram.

“In the Air Force we call it an RPA, a remote­ly pilot­ed vehi­cle … and [in Japan] it was the best one to sat­is­fy those per­sis­tent, dynam­ic imagery require­ments,” Thomas said.

The Glob­al Hawk flew from Guam to Japan, he added, where it “parked” over the strick­en area for up to 20 hours at a time, being retasked as new require­ments became evi­dent.

The Glob­al Hawk respond­ed to the Japan­ese dis­as­ter “one month ear­li­er than we had intend­ed it to oper­ate, Thomas said.

In an “incred­i­ble effort,” he said, the team had to fix com­mu­ni­ca­tions, find peo­ple to look at all the imagery, deter­mine pri­or­i­ties for task­ing amid simul­ta­ne­ous requests from 31 agen­cies and the office of Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, and sched­ule the remote­ly pilot­ed vehi­cle.

Dur­ing its time in Japan, Thomas said, the Glob­al Hawk flew 20 mis­sions and more than 500 hours, pro­duc­ing thou­sands of images.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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