Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Johns Hopkins University have discovered methods to control folding pathways and enable sequential folding on a millimeter scale using a low-intensity laser beam. Lasers at a low intensity worked as a trigger for tagging applications. Developers are fabricating sheets of millimeter-size structures that serve as battery-free wireless actuators that fold when exposed to a laser operating at eye-safe infrared wavelengths. The metallic structures may respond even to high-powered LED lighting.
A new robotic hand, developed by Sandia National Laboratories, mimics the capabilities of a human hand and could help disarm improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The Sandia Hand project aimed to create a cost-effective product for wide distribution to the troops with the flexibility and durability necessary to save lives in the field.
Boston Dynamics Incorporated, Waltham, Massachusetts, is being awarded a $10,882,438 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract. The contractor will develop and build a set of identical humanoid robot systems for use by performers in both phases of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Robotics Challenge Program. This effort will develop robotic platforms consisting of two legs, a torso, on board computing, two arms with hands, and a sensor head. The robots to be delivered to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will be distributed to the top software development teams based on the results of the Virtual Disaster Challenge of the Robotics Challenge program.
U.S. Army researchers have enhanced the Talon robot with an array of technologies to make the system more autonomous. Upgrades include inertial navigation and Global Positioning System technologies, a 306-degree camera system and laser radar, upgraded power distribution boards, an e-stop system, Ethernet radios, control computers and software for running the system. The combination of enhancements allow improved obstacle detection and 3-dimensional mapping.
Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory have developed a method to control microrobots by placing them in liquid and using magnetic forces. The researchers confined the robots-which are only half a millimeter wide-between two liquids. The application of alternating magnetic fields caused them to assemble into spiky shapes dubbed asters. By applying a second small magnetic field parallel to the surface, the scientists can make the robots pick up, transport and put down nonmagnetic particles. Already, four asters positioned together collected free-floating particles, and another one picked up a glass bead that weighed four times as much as itself.
Three U.S. Army units-two active duty and one National Guard-are preparing to go to war with robots armed, for now, with nonlethal weapons. Additionally, the Army expects later this year to finish the requirements document for the Multi-Mission Unmanned Ground System, which will include an armed version capable of deploying with small tactical units, possibly as early as 2013.
While more than 2,000 unmanned ground systems have already proved critical to the fight against improvised explosive devices, armed systems will tackle a wider array of missions, including force protection and tactical deployments.
The mid-1970s TV series "The Six Million Dollar Man" is no longer a mere futuristic dream. While today's injured warfighters aren't able to run 60 miles an hour or possess superhuman strength like fictional character Steve Austin, they are still achieving amazing results through robotics and prosthetics. And now, many are returning to service in fully functional mode. Technology Editor George I. Seffers looks at U.S. Army efforts to make soldiers physically whole again in his article, "Robotics Research Gives Life to Artificial Limbs," in this issue of SIGNAL Magazine.
NASA has signed a contract modification increasing the not-to-exceed value of a support contract with L-3 Services of Fairfax, Virginia, by $49 million, bringing the total value of the contract to $98 million. The contract provides simulation and software technology support to Johnson Space Center's Software, Robotics and Simulation Division in the fields of design, development, testing and operations of intelligent systems, robotic systems, spacecraft flight software systems and real-time simulation systems.
NASA has awarded a sole-source contract to Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Greenbelt, Maryland, for Systems Engineering for In-Space Servicing. This 18-month contract has a value of $31 million. Lockheed Martin will provide systems and discipline engineering support to develop and execute two demonstrations to test and verify new robotic servicing capabilities using the Dextre robot aboard the International Space Station. The Canadian Space Agency's Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, or Dextre, is a two-armed robotic system designed to perform intricate maintenance and servicing tasks, which previously would have required spacewalks.
Alion Science and Technology has recently been awarded a $1 million contract to lead a modeling and simulation research effort that could help enhance the field of prosthetic limbs for wounded soldiers. The 18-month, U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity will explore affordable and improved approaches in bringing robotic control technology to the field of prosthetic limbs. Alion will develop a protocol and modeling tool for robotic, upper limb prosthetics that may lead to the development of an affordable, lightweight, prosthetic device that is more functional to the amputee, more power-efficient and has an extended battery life.
It's nice when Fido obeys commands, but isn't it even better when he instinctively anticipates those directives? Apply this concept to unmanned systems-robotics to be exact-and the warfighter has a more foolproof companion by his side on the battlefield. That's the idea driving the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance (CTA) to advance the state of the art in unmanned technologies and move them more quickly into theater. Robots will eschew remote-control guidance, relying on programming that gives them autonomy via artificial intelligence.
Lockheed Martin has received a $1.1 million contract from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center for test and evaluation of its next-generation HULC, an advanced robotic exoskeleton, designed to augment soldiers' strength and endurance, as well as reduce load carriage injuries. Under this contract, the Army will test Lockheed's advanced ruggedized HULC design, which includes optimized control software, extended battery life and human factors improvements for quicker and easier sizing to each user.
The Boeing Company and the Australian government demonstrated the ability to simultaneously command and control three robot aircraft from an airborne command platform. The demonstration featured three ScanEagle unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) controlled from a Royal Australian Air Force Wedgetail 737 airborne early warning and control aircraft. Operating 120 miles from the Wedgetail, the ScanEagles were assigned tasks such as area search, reconnaissance, point surveillance and targeting. The aircraft demonstrated extended sensing; persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and the transmission of real-time video imagery of ground targets.
U.S. military ground troops have received their first fully modular ground robot system that can launch a variety of munitions, from 40-millimeter beanbags to 40-millimeter high-explosive grenades. The Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS) features a unibody chassis with a plug-and-play design, so warfighters will be able to expand its capabilities as new accessories and attachments become available.
As the U.S. Navy modernizes information systems across the fleet, one organization is responsible for researching, developing and fielding the full range of technologies in the Asia-Pacific region, providing complete life cycle development and support for systems, from concept to fielded capability.
Systems entered in the U.S. Navy’s 17th annual RoboSub competition, held July 28-Aug. 3, are far more sophisticated than the toys that competed in the first competition, which was launched in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“In the earlier days when we first did this, the systems were considered to be some kind of toys,” says Steve Koepenick, an autonomous systems expert with the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, which hosts the competition. “They are now tools. They’re part of the kit that our sailors and Marines take into theater with them. That’s reflected in the competition and the things the students are trying to do.”
The U.S. Army is preparing—for the first time—to develop and field micro robotic systems under programs of record, indicating confidence that the technology has matured and years of research are paying off. The small systems will provide individual soldiers and squads with critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data in jungles, buildings and caves that larger systems can’t reach. Ideally, they will become valued combat team members.
The U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Lab this week wrapped up an Advanced Warfighting Experiment (AWE) in the jungles of Hawaii, which tested a total of 16 systems including unmanned ground vehicles. The experiment was part of the July 9 -14 Rim of the Pacific exercise and could help determine how future Marine forces will fight and which technologies they will use.
The experiment included Marines aboard Navy ships as well as three company landing teams, a relatively new organization construct for the service. The company landing teams are altered rifle companies and represent a different approach to the Battalion Landing Team.
With the war in Afghanistan winding down, the U.S. Defense Department’s rapid deployment office, which specializes in identifying, developing and quickly fielding game-changing technologies, now will take a more long-term approach. Slightly stretching out the process will offer more flexibility to procure the best possible systems, will present more opportunities for interagency and international cooperation and may cut costs.