Army names RE2 to develop UGV robot toolkits

PITTSBURGH, Pa., 3 Jan. 2006. RE2, INC. announced that it has been awarded a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project by the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command (LCMC) located in Warren, Mich. to develop a low-cost Robot Infrastructure Toolkit for small Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV).

PITTSBURGH, Pa., 3 Jan. 2006. RE2, INC. announced that it has been awarded a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project by the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command (LCMC) located in Warren, Mich. to develop a low-cost Robot Infrastructure Toolkit for small Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV).

The current state of technology for small UGVs is varied and complex. For example, small UGVs utilized by the Army in the field are required to perform a variety of tasks such as surveillance, under car inspection and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), quite often in hostile environments.

Typically, specific robots are developed for each task, creating a multitude of robotic platforms. Moreover, robot manipulator arms are expensive, fragile and difficult to control. In addition to the specific robotic platforms, the Operator Control Units (OCUs) are often specialized for each particular robot, requiring unique training and maintenance. Also, critical missions, such as EOD operations, have specific communication requirements, such as minimized radio frequency (RF) signals.

The Army is seeking to simplify and reduce the cost of small UGV technologies. Therefore, the objective of this SBIR program is to develop a low-cost toolkit of specialized communication components and low degree of freedom (DOF) manipulators with a common control interface.

RE2 plans to use its expertise in robotics engineering, unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), and the Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems (JAUS).

"We are pleased to have been awarded this SBIR because we believe that there is a serious need for a universal toolkit for small unmanned ground vehicles," states Jorgen Pedersen, president and CEO for RE2. "Quite often, when a specific unmanned system need is identified, the typical response is to design and build a new robot intended to perform the specific task. This has resulted in a proliferation of small robotic UGVs. Each UGV performs admirably on tasks within its subset of core competencies, but is generally unsuitable for tasks that vary too widely from its essential purpose. By utilizing a common infrastructure toolkit on small UGVs, not only will the users become more efficient, but the cost savings will be significant."

During the six-month phase of the project, RE2 will do the following:
* develop a full system design, including the vehicle interfaces, operator control unit, controllers, manipulators and communication components,
* establish performance goals and develop a cost/benefit analysis for the communication components, and
* determine the technical feasibility of using the toolkit with and without access to JAUS-based native robot controllers and communication links.

RE2's experience with a variety of unmanned systems programs and tasks, including open-systems modular design, JAUS-based vehicle management and control, sensor and systems integration, Ethernet and serial communications, and innovative mechanisms, will provide a strong basis for meeting the goals and objectives of this Phase I SBIR program.

"The awarding of this SBIR Phase I program to RE2 further signifies the strength of the company's UGV and JAUS expertise and is evidence of the growing role that Southwestern Pennsylvania's agile robotics companies play in unmanned systems for the Department of Defense," remarked Bill Thomasmeyer, president of the National Center for Defense Robotics and executive vice president of The Technology Collaborative.

RE2 is a woman-owned Carnegie Mellon spin-off company specializing in mobile defense robotics. For more information, see www.resquared.com.

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