EXOSKELETONS

March 7, 2016


I have a dear friend and neighbor whose oldest son suffers with chronic back problems.  Several years ago he was involved in an automobile accident that left him with significant issues relative to mobility.  He has undergone three surgeries over the past few years, all of which have not improved his condition.   He is in constant pain.  On his best day, he can walk to his wheelchair. Chris is forty-six years old.

When I first read of medical exoskeletons I became very interested in the technology simply thinking that one day my friend may be able to walk comfortably with aid from these devices.  The progress made over the past few years is striking with technology improvements constantly in the news.

There is a huge need for applications designated for our “wounded warriors”.  According to the Paralysis Resource Center, relative to military involvement:

  • 54% of those who reported being paralyzed were males, while 46% were females.
  • 61% of those who reported being paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury were males, while 39% were females.
  • Males were nearly twice as likely (1.77) to incur a spinal cord injury as females.

“According to a study initiated by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, there are nearly 1 in 50 people living with paralysis — approximately 6 million people. That’s the same number of people as the combined populations of Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. And that number is nearly 33% higher than previous estimates showed.”

It means that we all know someone — a brother, sister, friend, neighbor, or colleague — living with paralysis.

A team of researchers in the Control Systems Laboratory, Department of Advanced Science and Technology, Toyota Technological Institute, Nagoya, Japan, have recently unveiled a new exoskeleton designed as a multipurpose assistive device that can be used for both power augmentation and passive and active robotic rehabilitation tasks.

While the overall mechatronic hardware was built several years ago, the control algorithm and software that is being used was built recently finalized.  If you are unfamiliar with the term mechatronic, I would like to offer a definition at this time as follows:

Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field of engineering that includes a combination of systems engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, telecommunications engineering, control engineering and computer engineering.

Mechatronic Image

You can see from the logotype above, mechatronics involves several engineering and computer disciplines, all working together to provide operational ability to any electro-mechanical device.  Now, back to our story.

According to Barkan Ugurlu, PhD, who is co-leading the research activities at the Toyota facility, there are three design objectives:  1.) The exoskeleton is multipurpose, 2.) wearable and lightweight, and 3.) inexpensive to manufacture. To address wearability and weight, the researchers used laser molded resin in the upper body with an overall system that can be worn by an individual.  The system has adjustable link lengths to accommodate varying wearer heights. To contain costs, they kept the exoskeleton design simple. The system is actuated via electrical motors, with the control algorithm is built on top of a sensorless architecture. The researchers also used off-the-shelf joint-level compensation and control techniques that are already in the manufacture of robots and robotic devices.  Several designs may be seen as follows:

Exo Hardware

Exo Hardware (2)

While clinical experiments have not been performed, the system performance has been tested with able-bodied individuals, as well as with individuals who are obese and who are underweight. The system performance is not easily influenced by human-wearer parameters, Ugurlu said.

Soldier and Exo

You can see from the JPEG above an application used by an Army Captain to aid mobility.  These applications are happening each day with significant improvements each year.  The need is definitely there as you can see from the following fact:

In considering mobility, companies designing and providing the hardware have also considered lack of mobility for upper-body motion.  The digital below will indicate what is now available.  Please note, lighter, stronger and improvement relative to range of motion is the desired goal.

Exo and Upper Body

The exoskeleton development for the most part is still in the first prototype stage.  Researchers indicate they intend to introduce improved models as their work evolves, such as a model that can help patients with paraplegia walk. “I am specialized in humanoid locomotion and we are going to introduce some of the key techniques from this field to exoskeleton-based paraplegic walking support,” Ugurlu said. “This study is still an ongoing process….”

Upper and lower exoskeleton devices show how engineering and medicine combine efforts to improve the quality of life for individuals otherwise wheelchair-bound.  This is only one example of how technology is addressing human needs.

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WINGS OVER NORTH GEORGIA

November 14, 2015


I don’t really know when my love for aviation began but I am sure it was very early in life.  As a kid, I built tens of plastic airplane models.  My biggest challenge was the “Spruce Goose”; eight engines, four per wing.  I discovered that painting and decal “fixing” was my biggest and most time-consuming chore.   I’ve sniffed enough Testors glue to classify as a junkie.   I would then carefully display the models in my room either hanging from the ceiling, always in attack mode for the fighters, or positioned squarely on a shelf available for all to see.

Later on, I graduated to “U” controlled balsa wood models.   I realize this takes most of you way back so I’ve included a JPEG of a “U” controlled plane.  As you can see, the planes are tethered by two wires, each controlling the vertical climb/dive motion of the aircraft.  The control is a hand-held plastic or wooden “U” device shown by the second JPEG.

U-Controlled Airplane

U- Flight

As you can see, the wires are attached to the upper and lower “U”.  The “pilot” will rock the controller to facilitate climb and descent motion.

We loved to dog fight these balsa wood planes.  You do that by tying streamers to both wings, then have at it.  Both pilots stand back to back, crank the engines and have at it.  The first one to cut the streamer of the other is obviously the winner.

Then came remote-controlled model airplanes.  This was the third phase in the development of flying models.  By that time, I was attending my university so I missed out on this fun-filled activity.  Too little time and too little money.  After graduation, I was commissioned into the United States Air Force.  You get the picture.  I’m a real fan.

Several weeks ago, I attended the “Wings Over North Georgia” air show in Rome, Georgia.  It was a miserable, rainy, cold, muddy day but we enjoyed every minute of it.  The next slides will illustrate the day and the airplanes we saw.  The “feature” event was an F-22 Raptor.  This is one beautiful machine.  Let’s take a look at several “heavier-than-air-aircraft” on display that day.

OSPREY

Ospery

I told you it was wet.  I had never seen an Osprey before and after seeing the cockpit, it’s the real deal. Let’s take a look.

The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey is an American multi-mission, tilt-rotor military aircraft with both a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability. It is designed to combine the functionality of a conventional helicopter with the long-range, high-speed cruise performance of a turboprop aircraft.

The V-22 originated from the United States Department of Defense Joint-service Vertical take-off/landing Experimental (JVX) aircraft program started in 1981. The team of Bell Helicopter and Boeing Helicopters was awarded a development contract in 1983 for the tilt-rotor aircraft. The Bell Boeing team jointly produced the aircraft.  The V-22 first flew in 1989, and began flight testing and design alterations; the complexity and difficulties of being the first tilt-rotor intended for military service in the world led to many years of development.

The United States Marine Corps began crew training for the Osprey in 2000, and fielded it in 2007; it supplemented and then replaced their Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knights. The Osprey’s other operator, the U.S. Air Force, fielded their version of the tilt-rotor in 2009. Since entering service with the U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force, the Osprey has been deployed in transportation and medivac operations over Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Kuwait.  A better look with the aircraft going from VTOL to level flight is given as follows:

OSPREY IN FLIGHT

C-17

One other aircraft on display was the C-17 Globemaster transport.  The Boeing C-17 Globemaster III is a large military transport aircraft. It was developed for the United States Air Force (USAF) from the 1980s to the early 1990s by McDonnell Douglas. The C-17 carries forward the name of two previous piston-engine military cargo aircraft, the Douglas C-74 Globemaster and the Douglas C-124 Globemaster II. The C-17 commonly performs strategic airlift missions, transporting troops and cargo throughout the world; additional roles include tactical airlift, medical evacuation and airdrop duties.

Boeing, which merged with McDonnell Douglas in the 1990s, continued to manufacture C-17s for export customers following the end of deliveries to the U.S. Air Force. Aside from the United States, the C-17 is in service with the United KingdomAustraliaCanadaQatarUnited Arab EmiratesNATO Heavy Airlift WingIndia, and Kuwait. The final C-17 was completed in May 2015. Let’s take a look.

C-17. Todd and Bob(3)

OK, so I’m not the HULK, but this thing is huge.  I’m the one in the yellow rain jacket and you can see how “petite” my buddy Todd and I are in comparison to this monster.   The following JPEG is courtesy of the USAF and will show the internal size of the C-17.

C-17 Internal

I told you it was big.

F-22 Raptor

I don’t have any JPEGs of the Raptor I took personally.  There was a four-hour delay due to weather and the Raptor made a low-level run to demonstrate maneuvering capabilities.  The JPEGs below were obtained (again) from the USAF.  I can tell you from witnessing the flight, it has impressive sharp-turn capabilities and deserves to be called state-of-the-art.

The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is a single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft developed for the United States Air Force (USAF). The result of the USAF’s Advanced Tactical Fighter program, the aircraft was designed primarily as an air superiority fighter, but has additional capabilities including ground attackelectronic warfare, and signals intelligence roles.  Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor and was responsible for the majority of the airframe, weapon systems, and final assembly of the F-22, while program partner Boeing provided the wings, aft fuselage, avionics integration, and training systems.

The aircraft was variously designated F-22 and F/A-22 prior to formally entering service in December 2005 as the F-22A. Despite a protracted development as well as operational issues, the USAF considers the F-22 a critical component of its tactical air power, and states that the aircraft is unmatched by any known or projected fighter.  The Raptor’s combination of stealth, aerodynamic performance, and situational awareness gives the aircraft unprecedented air combat capabilities

The high cost of the aircraft, a lack of clear air-to-air missions due to delays in Russian and Chinese fighter programs, a ban on exports, and development of the more versatile and lower cost F-35 led to the end of F-22 production.   A final procurement tally of 187 operational production aircraft was established in 2009 and the last F-22 was delivered to the USAF in 2012.

F-22 Raptor

The Raptor cockpit is a digital marvel.  Please note the “heads-up” display.

F-22 Raptor Cockpit

There were other aircraft on display including several that would qualify as “oldies-but-goodies”.  The most impressive was the B-25 bomber.  It was in pristine condition and flew to the air show from its “home” in Arizona.  Unfortunately, it left the show before I had time to make a picture.  We frequently had to duck for cover during several periods of driving rain.  Good day—but wet day.

Hope you enjoy this one.  As always, I welcome your comments.


If you follow my postings you know I love to fly and got my pilot’s license when I was fifteen.  Due to FAA regulations, I had to wait until I was sixteen before I could fly solo.  I logged quite a few hours during my fifteenth year but with a rated pilot in the right seat.  A digital of the type aircraft I flew is given as follows:

Piper Tri-Pacer

As you can see, most would call this a puddle-jumper.  It got me there and I had a good time doing it.

We go from fairly unsophisticated to the cutting-edge when we look at the F-35 Lightning II.  Let’s take a look.

PROGRAM:

The F-35 Lightning II Program (also known as the Joint Strike Fighter Program) is the Department of Defense’s focal point for defining affordable next generation strike aircraft weapon systems for the Navy, Air Force, Marines, and our allies. (The word affordable is now in question since there have been significant cost overruns for the entire program.)  The F-35 will bring cutting-edge technologies to the battle space of the future.  The JSFs advanced airframe, autonomic logistics, avionics, propulsion systems, stealth, and firepower will ensure that the F-35 is the most lethal, supportable and survivable aircraft ever to be used by so many war fighters across the globe.   Digital photographs of the fighter are given as follows:

F-35 Fighter

F-35 Fighter(2)

Someone once said, “ if it looks like it will fly—it will fly”.  This aircraft definitely looks like it can fly and intended for the US Navey, US Air Force and the US Marine Corps.

The JSF will fulfill stated Service needs as follows:

  • U. S. Navy First day of war, survivable strike fighter aircraft to complement F/A-18E/F
  • U.S. Air Force Multirole aircraft (primary-air-to-ground) to replace the F-16 and A-10 and complement the F/A-22
  • U.S. Marine Corps STOVL aircraft to replace the AV-8B and F/A-18 as their only strike fighter
  • United Kingdom Royal Navy & Royal Air Force STOVL aircraft to replace Sea Harriers & GR.7s as a supersonic strike fighter
  • Other Countries Potential JSF customers include current operators of F-16, F/A-18, and AV-8B

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION:

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program is an internationally oriented program consisting of partnerships with a number of countries. See below for links to the transcripts of the signing ceremonies of the official partnership of each of the programs cooperating partners: United Kingdom (signed 17 Jan 2001 for $2B)

Italy (signed 24 Jun 2002 for $1B)
Netherlands (signed 17 Jun 2002 for $800M)
Turkey (signed 11 Jun 2002 for $175M)
Canada (signed 7 Feb 2002 for $150M)
Australia* (signed 31 Oct 2002 for $150M)
Denmark (signed 28 May 2002 for $125M)
Norway* (signed 20 Jun 2002 for $125M)

A quick look at the various suppliers relative to companies and countries contributing resources may be seen as follows:

VENDORS AND MAJOR CONTRACTORS

CAPABILITIES:

Stealth. The F-35 is designed as a stealth counterpart to the F-22 Raptor air dominance fighter and one that can share “first day of the war” duties against defended targets although it can’t perform air-air or SEAD/ “Wild Weasel” missions to the same standard. The F-35 has a larger single engine instead of the Raptor’s twin thrust-vectoring F119s, removing both super-cruise (sustained flight above Mach 1) and super-maneuverability options. The F-22A is also a much “stealthier” aircraft from all angles, and independent analysis and modeling has concluded that the F-35’s stealth will be weaker from the sides and the rear. Even so, the F-35 is a big improvement over existing ‘teen series’ fighters, and a step above Generation 4+ options like the F/A-18E/F Super HornetEurofighterRafale, and JAS-39 Gripen.  This fact is considered by the DoD to be a drawback.

Engine. The F-35 was designed to offer interchangeable engine options. That has been an important feature for global F-16 and F-15 customers, improving costs and performance, while providing added readiness insurance for dual-engine fleets like the USAF, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, etc. Pratt & Whitney’s lobbying eventually forced GE & Rolls-Royce’s F136 out of the F-35 program, and made their F135-PW-100 engine the only choice for global F-35 fleets.  A special F-135-PW-600 version with Rolls Royce’s LiftFan add-on, and a nozzle that can rotate to point down, will power the vertical-landing F-35B.

The US military had better hope that an engine design problem never grounds all of their fighters. While they’re at it, they should hope that both performance and maintenance contracts remain reasonable, despite the absence of any competitive alternative.

Sensors. The Lightning II will be equipped to levels that would once have defined a high-end reconnaissance aircraft. Its advanced APG-81 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar is smaller and less powerful than the F-22A’s APG-77v1; but still offers the strong AESA advantages of simultaneous air-air and air-ground capabilities, major maintenance & availability improvements, and secure, high-bandwidth communications benefits. The F-35 also shares a “sensor fusion” design advance with the F-22, based on an even more extensive sensor set embedded all around the airframe. Both planes will be able to perform as reconnaissance aircraft, though the F-35 will have superior infrared and ground-looking sensors. Both fighters will also have the potential to act as electronic warfare aircraft, though not to the same level as the Super-Hornet’s EA-18G Growler derivative.

These sensors are connected to a lot of computing power, in order to create single-picture view that lets the pilot see everything on one big 20″ LCD screen and just fly the plane, rather than trying to push buttons, switch views, and figure it all out at 6g. As part of that sensor fusion, the F-35 will be the first plane is several decades to fly without a heads-up display. Instead, pilots will wear Elbit/Rockwell’s JHMDS helmet or BAE’s HMSS, and have all of that information projected wherever they look. JHMDS is both a strength that adds new capabilities, like the ability to look “through” the plane’s floor, and a single point-of-failure weakness.

Maintenance. The F-35 has a large number of design features that aim to simplify maintenance and keep life cycle costs down. Since operations and maintenance are usually about 65% or more of a fighter’s lifetime cost, this is one the most important and overlooked aspects of fighter selection.

Stealth aircraft have always had much higher maintenance costs, but the F-35’s designers hope that new measures can reverse that trend. Some of the plane’s stealth coatings are being baked into composite airplane parts, for instance, in the hope that customers will need fewer “Martians” (Materials Application and Repair Specialists) around to apply stealth tapes and putties before each mission. Technical innovations like self-diagnosing aircraft wiring aim to eliminate one of the toughest problems for any mechanic, and the fleet-wide ALIS information and diagnostic system is designed to shift the fleet from scheduled maintenance to maintenance only as needed.

Despite these measures, March 2012 operations and maintenance projections have the F-35 at 142% O&M cost, relative to F-16s, and subsequent reports have risen as high as 160%. It remains to be seen if the advantages of F-35 innovations manage to fulfill their promise, or if projections that they’ll be outweighed in the end by increased internal complexity, and by the proliferation of fault-prone electronics, come true. That has certainly been the general trend over the last 50 years of fighter development, with a very few notable exceptions like America’s F-16s and A-10s, and Sweden’s JAS-39 Gripen.

SPECIFICATIONS:

The specifications for this fighter are really impressive.  As you can see, it can fly at MACH 1.6 and pull a survivable maximum of 9.0 Gs.   It also is capable of carrying a huge array of weapons.  The complete package is given below.

SPECIFICATIONS

COCKPIT:

The F-35 features a full-panel-width glass cockpit touchscreen “panoramic cockpit display” (PCD), with dimensions of 20 by 8 inches (50 by 20 centimeters). A cockpit speech-recognition system (DVI) provided by Adace I has been adopted on the F-35 and the aircraft will be the first operational U.S. fixed-wing aircraft to employ this DVI system, although similar systems have been used on the AV-8B Harrier II and trialled in previous aircraft, such as the F-16 VISTA.

helmet-mounted display system (HMDS) will be fitted to all models of the F-35. While some fighters have offered HMDS along with a head up display (HUD), this will be the first time in several decades that a front line fighter has been designed without a HUD.   The F-35 is equipped with a right-hand HOTAS side stickcontroller. The Martin-Baker US16E ejection seat is used in all F-35 variants. The US16E seat design balances major performance requirements, including safe-terrain-clearance limits, pilot-load limits, and pilot size; it uses a twin-catapult system housed in side rails. The F-35 employs an oxygen system derived from the F-22’s own system, which has been involved in multiple hypoxia incidents on that aircraft; unlike the F-22, the flight profile of the F-35 is similar to other fighters that routinely use such systems.  The cockpit is a pilot’s dream (or nightmare).

COCKPIT

COSTS OVER-RUNS:

The cost of the U.S. Defense Department’s most expensive weapons program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, declined by 1 percent in the past year to $391 billion while lawmakers remain concerned about its software.

The estimated price tag to develop and build 2,457 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets includes $326.9 billion for air frames and $64.3 billion for engines, according to newly released figures from the Pentagon. The combined amount is $4.5 billion, or 1.1 percent, less than an estimate of $395.7 billion released in March 2012.

The decline was attributed in part to revised labor rates charged by the prime contractor — Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp. — and its subcontractors, according to the Defense Department.

The F-35 is among a Pentagon portfolio of 78 weapons programs projected to cost a total of $1.66 trillion. That’s a 2.7 increase in cost from last year’s projection of $1.62 trillion for 83 systems. Despite the modest rise, none of the programs were flagged for having significant cost overruns.

The figures were released the same week a Republican-led subcommittee in the House of Representatives voted to require that Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, create an independent panel to review the F-35’s software development and submit a report on its status to congressional defense committees by March 3, 2014.

The House Armed Services’ tactical air and land forces subcommittee, led by Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, included the language in its draft of the 2014 defense authorization bill, which sets policy goals and spending targets for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Kendall himself has said the amount of code still needed to be written creates “some risks” and Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the service’s F-35 program manager, has said he’s concerned the slow pace of software development may delay the delivery of the most lethal version of the fighter jet beyond 2017.

That model of the aircraft, known as 3F, is designed to be equipped with a suite of internal and external weapons, including the GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition, laser-guided Paveway II bomb, Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile and infrared Sidewinder missile.

The Pentagon in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 plans to spend $8.4 billion to buy 29 F-35 Lightning IIs, including 19 for the Air Force, six for the Marine Corps and four for the Navy, according to the budget request released last month. The plane is designed to replace such aircraft as the F-16, A-10, F/A-18 and AV-8B.

CONCLUSIONS:

This is a marvelous piece of technology but it is tremendously expensive.   It is obviously designed to consider “wars of the future”, where they may be fought and who just might be the enemy.  This one is too big to fail and the program, in some fashion, will go to fruition.

ENTITLEMENTS

March 5, 2014


Unless you are new to my postings, you know that I rarely (very rarely) do politics.  I think politicians are fascinating only because I think all people are fascinating.  Culture, background, ethnicity, language, etc. all intertwine to produce a mosaic that essentially defines who we are individual. We are one of a kind. There is no one like us.   I also think the act of being political is a huge impediment to progress.  One example, Congress. In my lifetime, I can never remember such a contentious and mean-spirited group of losers.  The “us versus them” mentality is alive and well.  If I hear the word “brand” one more time or the phrase “appealing to my base”, I think I just might scream.    Adding to my disgust was the following cartoon in this Sunday’s paper.  It really hit a sour note; a very sour note indeed.   

Entitlements & Military (3)

 

The sargent on the left is the emodiment of the entitlement mentality.  The little guy on the right is the United States military.  The entire article addresses cuts in spending for the DOD, specifically the reduction in benefits to men and women who serve in uniform.

Merriam-Webster defines entitlements as follows:

  • Noun—“The condition of having a right to have, do, or get something”
  • “The feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something, such as a special favor”.
  • “A type of financial help provided by the government for members of a particular group.”

The Declaration of Independence, signed July 4, 1776, addresses our unalienable rights and states these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  This marvelous document in no way indicates we are entitled to anything over and above these three rights.  In looking at the first ten (10) admentments to the Constitution, we are guaranteed the following: 1.) Freedom of Religion, 2.) Freedom of Speech, 3.) A Free Press, 4.) Freedom to Assemble, 5.) The Right to Keep and Bear Arms, 6.) Freedom for Unreasonable Search and Seizure, 7.) Security in Personal Effects, 8.) Freedom from Warrants Issued Without Probable Cause, 9.)  Indictment by a Grand Jury for any Capital or “Infamous Crime” and 10.)  Guarantee of a Speedy, Public Trial with an Impartial Jury; and Prohibition of Double Jeopardy. These first ten admentments are called the Bill of Rights.  Please note: nowhere  in the Bill of Rights are we guarenteed “free stuff”.  It was assumed by the creators of the document that the average individual would accomplish in accordance with his or her abilities and would strive for personal improvement in the process.  Allowances such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, in my opinion, do not fall under the term entitlements.  These services have not been free.   They are paid for by withholding from income.  This is how we pay for these benefits.  Free mobile phones, food stamps, subsidized housing and many others were not comtenplated by our founding fathers.  I feel certain they would be rolling over in their graves if they had an inkling as to where we are in this country.  Please don’t get me wrong, there are those individuals who need help from their federal government from time to time BUT cutting benefits for our military is JUST WRONG when these cuts are done to provide additional entitlements.  OK, reduce “head count”. Shrink the force. Cancell or mothball weapon systems but don’t alter benefits.  Don’t freeze pay grades. Don’t cut commisary access.   Don’t reduce insurance.  Don’t raise the grocery bill for the uniformed military. Don’t alter training due to cutbacks in spending.  Having been in the Air Force for four years, I can tell you it is not always a picnic.   The monthly income is not why we serve.  This can be borne out by the fact that a great many uniformed personnel are using food stamps.   I worked on ICBMs carrying nuclear pay loads.  No one at me and times were still tough due to very low comparable wages and long hours.  In my opinion, the uniformed military deserves decent pay for services rendered and some assurance benefits will be available at retirement.   The world remains a very dangerous place.  The United States will continue to engage, and that takes a strong, well-trained, optomistic uniformed military.  

GROUND-BASED ROBOTIC SYSTEMS

January 12, 2013


The photographs for this posting are derived from information furnished by Ann R. Thryft; Design News, “Military Robots Extend Humans’ Reach.

For some reason, when I think of robotic systems designed for DOD applications, I think of drone aircraft and aircraft specifically designed for recon missions and surveillance.  In other words, flying machines specifically designed for flight.   Equally fascinating, are robotic systems  ground-based, that operate and maneuver thereby extending  operational capabilities “in theater” and taking our uniformed military from “harms way”.   Let’s take a very quick look at several recent advancements for ground-based robotic systems.

Nighthawk Micro Air Vehicle(MAV)

The Nighthawk Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) is a rugged, fully automated unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made of carbon fiber composite. It uses GPS and autopilot technologies for navigating unfriendly territories to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. Its range is over 10 km (6 miles) and flight time is more than 60 minutes. The Nighthawk weighs 1.6 lb (725 gm), has a wingspan of 26 inches (66 cm), and a cruise speed of 18 to 30-plus knots. The MAV is equipped with 8-channel command and control, 4-channel video, and operates on batteries. It has forward and side-looking electro-optical cameras and a side or forward-looking thermal imager. A PC-based user interface provides real-time visual feedback and point-and-click waypoint navigation. The system can also be operated in semi-manual and manual flight modes. MAVs are stored fully assembled and ready to launch in a tube measuring 6 inches (15.2 cm) in diameter and attached to an assault pack. The assault pack’s outer pockets hold a rugged laptop computer, the ground control station, and an antenna assembly. The pack’s total weight is about 15 lb (6 kg).  (Source: Applied Research Associates)

Avatar II

The Avatar II is a remote-controlled tactical robot with a 300m (328 yards) operating range for first responders and SWAT teams. It includes a front-mounted drive camera, a high-intensity front headlight, an infrared light, a 360-degree pan-tilt-zoom camera, and a composite chassis that’s resistant to shock and water. Front and rear flippers help it climb stairs at inclines of up to 60 degrees and right itself if turned upside down. It’s also got secure WiFi for live video and audio transmission, as well as two-way audio operation and video and audio recording capability. Separate wireless channels let operators control multiple robots simultaneously. The Avatar II weighs 25 lb (11.34 kg) and measures 24.41 inches (62 cm) by 15.35 inches (39 cm) by 6.14 inches (15.6 cm).  (Source: Robotex)

Python HTR

The Python HTR climbs stairs and navigates difficult terrain to assist humans in hazmat, tactical, and reconnaissance operations. Simulator Systems’ operator control unit software includes a user interface that depends on touch gestures for controlling the robot’s movement, adjusting cameras, modifying settings, or changing views. The software also incorporates a secure, digital communication protocol for transmitting video. The HTR is based on the company’s Robotics Relay System for Communication in Urban Environments software. This incorporates mesh networking, like that used for smart power grids, to control multiple robots or relay surveillance cameras, and to use them as a network of mobile signal transmission points. The robot’s hardware is built in a modular fashion, so operators can swap out all components in the field without tools: accessories, cameras, OEM monitors, and even the Master Control Unit containing the robot’s critical electronic systems.  (Source: Simulator Systems)

Pointman

Aptly called Pointman, Applied Research Associates’ small unmanned ground vehicle (SUGV) is a remote-controlled tactical robot for conducting video surveillance of multi-story structures and facility perimeters. Video outputs allow its display on an external monitor, and its wireless communication range is up to 600 feet (182.88m). Because its camera boom assembly lies flat, Pointman can also conduct under-vehicle inspection of automobiles, commercial vehicles, and aircraft. It uses wheeled locomotion to move over level terrain at about 5 feet (1.52m) per second, and can climb stairs at a speed of one step per second. It can climb over objects that are up to 11 inches (27.9 cm) high and runs for five to six hours on easy to moderate terrain. Pointman measures 19 inches (48.3 cm) wide x 13 inches (33 cm) long by 5.25 inches (13.3 cm) high, and weighs 18 lb (8 kg). It is water-resistant and can be decontaminated.  (Source: Applied Research Associates)

Clearpath Robotics

Clearpath Robotics says it designed the Husky A200 unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) to make UGV prototype development faster and cheaper for industrial and military engineers, computer scientists, and researchers. Built on an open, low-level, serial communication protocol, the Husky, like the company’s other robots, supports industry standard software such as LabVIEW, layer/Stage, C++, and Python, as well as the open-source Robot Operating System (ROS). Sample code is provided for interfaces with GPS systems, vision, and LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors. The remote-controlled Husky’s high-torque 4×4 differential drive system can deal with most field environments, including dirt, mud, water, gravel, rocks, and snow. 5V, 12V, and 24V user power is provided, and power lines have been filtered and fused for payload safety. The Husky measures 990 mm (39 inches) by 670 mm (26.4 inches) by 390 mm (14.6 inches) and weighs 47 kg (104 lb). Maximum payload weight is 75 kg (165 lb), and maximum speed is 1.0 m/s (2.3 mph).  (Source: Clearpath Robotics)

TerraMax

The TerraMax unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) kit converts any military tactical wheeled vehicle to supervised autonomous navigation in either a lead or follow role, with each vehicle able to navigate independently to the target location. Applications include improving autonomous missions, and protecting soldiers from possible IED (Improvised Explosive Device) threats. Tightly integrated “x-by-wire” brakes, steering, engine, and transmission enable advanced driver assist systems such as electronic stability control, adaptive cruise control, and collision mitigation braking. The multi-sensor system makes possible accurate positioning estimates without the need for continuous tracking through GPS signals or a lead vehicle. Sensors include LIDAR (light detection and ranging), radar, and multispectral vision. Operators can observe and manage internal operations and autonomous systems status, and create or load route information, over tactical data links.  (Source: Oshkosh Defense) Modular Robotic Control System

The Modular Robotic Control System (MRCS) isn’t a robotic vehicle, but an integrated hardware and software kit that converts existing commercial tracked or wheeled construction vehicles to remote control. The software is compliant with the military’s Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems (JAUS). Vehicles from 3,000-lb skid steer loaders, up to wheel loaders weighing eight times that much, can be controlled with the MRCS, designed by unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) maker Applied Research Associates. The customizable control system provides remote control of a vehicle’s motion, in addition to remote control of attachments such as robotic arms, disruptors, and other tools. The operator control unit includes picture-in-picture high-quality video capability so operators can remotely view the environment surrounding the vehicle, as well as tool operation. The line-of-sight range provided by the digital radio control system is 1.5 miles (2.41 km).  (Source: Applied Research Associates)

TORC Robotics

 

TORC Robotics’ Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate (GUSS) autonomous vehicle might be thought of as an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) on steroids. It can carry 1,800 lb and travel up to 10 mph over a variety of off-road terrain, for carrying out missions such as route clearance, reconnaissance, and resupply. GUSS drives itself via TORC’s customized AutonoNav software navigation system. The software allows control of mission planning, motion planning, behaviors, and vehicle control, as well as optimized route planning. Interfaces with GPS systems and LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors are provided, and motion planning parameters can be entered via a web-based interface. It can also be controlled using handheld or wearable units. The vehicle is the joint product of a development team that includes Virginia Tech, the Naval Surface Warfare Center-Dahlgren, and the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab.  (Source: TORC Robotics)

 

 

 

 

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