MCLEAN, Va., 10 Aug. 2009. Engineers at QinetiQ North America, makers of the TALON robots used extensively to defuse roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, announced a new large-scale robotic capability that they developed jointly with Bobcat Co., manufacturer of Bobcat compact loaders, in response to the increasing size and lethality of roadside bombs and IEDs (improvised explosive devices).
QinetiQ North America's Technology Solutions Group has developed a kit that can be installed in about 15 minutes on any of 17 models of Bobcat skid-steer, all-wheel steer, or compact track loaders that are equipped with the Selectable Joystick Controls (SJC) option. This temporarily turns the loader into a remotely operated robot capable of using more than 37 Bobcat-approved attachments.
The loader can be sent down-range to handle large, deep-buried IEDs that require actual excavation to dislodge or a bucket to lift and remove. In Afghanistan, where there are reported to be more than 100 million mines, Bobcat loaders could also be used to remotely render safe mines on building sites.
Upon completion of a mission, the kit is removed and the machine reverts to in-the-seat-operation. The kit can be swapped from one SJC-equipped Bobcat loader to another by the user, allowing the mission to dictate what size machine to use along with what specific attachment works best.
The robotics kit for Bobcat loaders includes seven cameras, a microphone to enable the remote operator to hear ambient sound from the cab, three different CREW 2.1 compatible radio options, three control options (laptop, wearable, and table top), green and yellow warning lights to signal robotic engagement, an anti-rollover warning system, and emergency manual shut off switches on the vehicle and on the control panel that support remote restart.
The kit's hardened electronics are rated at 156ºF to handle the solar load in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and have passed rigorous MIL-STD-810F environmental testing. Cameras include five mounted on the roof, one in the cab and one on the vehicle looking at the load. Night vision is provided by IR Illumination and thermal imaging in addition to the white lights on the Bobcat loader itself.
"Other companies have roboticized individual pieces of earth-moving equipment, but until now, no one has created a universal kit that can quickly remotely control any Bobcat SJC-equipped loader used in the rough manner the military requires," says Dr. William Ribich, president of the Qinetiq Technology Solutions Group. "The kit gives the warfighter and bomb disposal teams tremendous flexibility in a cost-effective manner, given the low cost of the Bobcat loaders manufactured in high volumes for civilian uses compared to customized robots built in small numbers just for counter-IED activities."
"The versatility of the Bobcat loaders coupled with QinetiQ's expertise in remote operations, makes for a great system. The pan/tilt camera positioned where an operator's head is normally located, along with ambient sounds from the loader, gives the user the sense of operating from the seat. Operators quickly adapt to the different controllers available to make it an effective combination," says Mike Melroe of Bobcat.