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Tanglefoot Protects Troops From Explosives

Tuesday, March 30, 2010
by Rita Boland, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
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The U.S. Army has unveiled to the public a new robot that aids troops in their fight against improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Intended to attach to more than 8,000 other robotic assets already deployed in the field, Tanglefoot employs simple tools to clear routes that military members must traverse. Developers of this new machine believe its capabilities will help save lives by improving the security of roadways and by keeping soldiers away from explosives during the detection and disarming processes.

According to the Defense Manpower Data Center, IEDs are the most deadly threats to U.S. and coalition forces deployed in battle zones. The devices are responsible for nearly two-thirds of the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army's Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) debuted Tanglefoot during the Ground Robotic Capabilities Conference and Exhibition in Florida in mid-March. The robot incorporates an interface kit, a wire rake and a mast to create a simple, low-cost, universal tool to assist the defeat of improvised explosives. To clear routes, Tanglefoot uses a basic mechanical wire mitigation system to uncover trip wires attached to IEDs that target vehicles or dismounted personnel.

Lonnie Freiburger, a robotics engineer at TARDEC, says, "Tanglefoot is pulled across perilous areas to grab dangerous wires." By attaching Tanglefoot to other robots, the military can keep soldiers out of harm's way.

"There are other devices and electronic countermeasures that assist with detection; however, the neutralization is generally a manual process," Freiburger explains. "Tanglefoot offers a simple, low-cost solution that does it all." Dave Thomas, TARDEC’s associate director of intelligent ground systems, says this technology was directly requested from warfighters.

TARDEC personnel collaborated with their counterparts at the Robotics Systems Joint Project Office (RSJPO) to move Tanglefoot from the laboratory to the outside world. The center rapidly developed and tested the device before transferring it to RSJPO for fielding. The Army believes the type of teamwork that resulted in Tanglefoot demonstrates the importance of collaboration in military efforts. Maj. Chad Harris, USA, the assistant project manager for maneuver support systems at RSJPO, says the partnership between his organization and the center made Tanglefoot possible. He also shares that this type of teamwork helps warfighters more quickly obtain the technology capabilities they need to be effective.

In addition to Tanglefoot, TARDEC took advantage of the Ground Robotic Capabilities Conference to highlight other advances in military robots. The center demonstrated to attendees how troops can operate multiple robots from a single controller. This remote operating device can be an iPod touch, iPad or similar device. Personnel showcased this capacity using PackBot and the Omni Directional Inspection System robots. The demonstration displayed how diverse systems can interoperate to optimize and integrate better future technology. Thomas says part of the center's plan at the conference was to find ways that the entire robotic community can work together to solve communications challenges.