USA — 4 light robots put through paces at Fort Benning

FORT BENNING, Ga. — Infantry­men and engi­neers steered four small robots around the build­ings and ter­rain at the McKen­na Urban Oper­a­tions Com­plex last week to get a bet­ter idea how they might help Sol­diers in recon mis­sions and the detec­tion of impro­vised explo­sive devices.

Two Sol­diers pre­pare a robot for a mis­sion Wednes­day as part of the exper­i­ment. Sol­diers at Fort Ben­ning, Ga., test­ed four small robots last week to get a bet­ter idea how they might help Sol­diers in recon mis­sions and the detec­tion of impro­vised explo­sive devices.
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It was part of the Ultra Light Recon­nais­sance Robot lim­it­ed objec­tive exper­i­ment spon­sored by the Joint Impro­vised Explo­sive Device Defeat Orga­ni­za­tion. Fort Benning’s Maneu­ver Bat­tle Lab con­duct­ed the assess­ment, which began Feb. 13 and end­ed Friday. 

Key play­ers also includ­ed the Robot­ic Sys­tems Joint Prod­ucts Office; Maneu­ver Sup­port Cen­ter of Excel­lence from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Maneu­ver Cen­ter of Excel­lence Counter Impro­vised Explo­sive Device train­ing team and Marine Corps Warfight­ing Laboratory. 

Project offi­cials said robot weight, size and pow­er require­ments must be mea­sured against its capa­bil­i­ties and lim­i­ta­tions in defeat­ing IED threats. Find­ing the right bal­ance was a major focus area in the experiment. 

Army and Marine small units engaged in maneu­ver, move­ment and pro­tec­tion oper­a­tions don’t have the respon­sive capa­bil­i­ty to detect, iden­ti­fy and mon­i­tor IED and oth­er threats in con­fined spaces such as cul­verts at stand­off dis­tances, offi­cials said. If a pos­si­ble IED threat is detect­ed but can’t be con­firmed because of its cam­ou­flaged loca­tion, small units must call on lim­it­ed engi­neer and explo­sive ord­nance dis­pos­al resources, or a Sol­dier has to get close enough to visu­al­ly con­firm the threat — a time-con­sum­ing and dan­ger­ous process. 

“The point is to keep Sol­diers out of harm’s way and dan­ger — and put a robot there instead,” said Maj. Joseph Pruitt of the Maneu­ver Sup­port Bat­tle Lab from Fort Leonard Wood. “Ide­al­ly, we want a robot that weighs noth­ing and does everything.” 

The can­di­date robots — Drag­on Run­ner 10, Armadil­lo, 110 First Look and Recon Scout — range from 11 to 1.2 pounds. All are designed to be thrown. 

Each was put through its paces in a series of dif­fer­ent mis­sions car­ried out by eight Sol­diers from the 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 7th Infantry Reg­i­ment, 4th Brigade Com­bat Team, out of Fort Stew­art, Ga., and eight more from the 428th Engi­neer Com­pa­ny, 397th Engi­neer Bat­tal­ion, a Reserve unit based in Wisconsin. 

Prod­uct man­agers and eval­u­a­tors said they exam­ined var­i­ous robot­ic capa­bil­i­ties, includ­ing dura­bil­i­ty, ease of use, weight, range and cam­era clar­i­ty. It sup­ports the MCoE’s “Squad: Foun­da­tion of the Deci­sive Force” ini­tia­tive by advanc­ing pos­si­ble light­weight robot­ic tech­nol­o­gy solutions. 

“It’s too ear­ly to tell how effec­tive they’ll be,” said Maj. James Collins, the Maneu­ver Bat­tle Lab’s unmanned sys­tems chief. “Sol­dier sur­viv­abil­i­ty is the main thing we want to accom­plish. If they will save lives, it’ll be very impor­tant to field them. 

“It’s all about the squad right now try­ing to over­pow­er or over­match the ene­my,” Collins said. “Robots have the poten­tial to fill some of these capa­bil­i­ty gaps at that level.” 

The light­weight recon robots can be strapped to a Soldier’s back. Once deployed on the ground, “any­body who’s played Game Boy can pick this up and oper­ate it,” said Spc. Jonathon Near of 3–7 Inf. 

He said the robots could mit­i­gate casu­al­ties by act­ing as sur­ro­gates for U.S. per­son­nel on the battlefield. 

“Nor­mal­ly, it would take a fire team to go into a room to see if it or anoth­er one is boo­by-trapped. If you can send a robot instead, it could save lives,” Near said. “It low­ers the risk of me run­ning out there or send­ing oth­er guys in to find out what’s behind that door or in that culvert.” 

The Sol­diers learned how to put the robots togeth­er, employ and dis­as­sem­ble them. 

Staff Sgt. Rodol­fo Miran­da, anoth­er Fort Stew­art Infantry­man, said a cou­ple of robots need minor improve­ments to bet­ter han­dle the rugged ter­rain of Afghanistan. But he sees how the sys­tems could be use­ful downrange. 

“Hav­ing robots to send out there and do recon for us will def­i­nite­ly save lives on the bat­tle­field,” he said. 

Collins said the Maneu­ver Bat­tle Lab will crunch data and assess Sol­dier feed­back as part of a thor­ough post-exper­i­ment analy­sis. Mean­while, JIEDDO plans to send the robots into Afghanistan soon for a for­ward assess­ment, he said. 

U.S. Army 

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