robotic controllers on land clearing equipment

Military expanding the role for robotics beyond the battlefield

While the Pentagon's robotic helpmates to carry packs or rescue soldiers have received widespread coverage, the military is looking beyond the battlefield as well.  It’s also turning to robotics to clear forestry and unexploded ordnance to make room for a new $40 million live-fire test range at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. 

The robotic solution’s modular control kit, or what is termed the “brain kit,” allows for safe remote operation of mulchers, tree shears or feller bunchers.  It controls the steering, acceleration, breaking and hydraulic lift boom components and can be mounted onto most heavy equipment in about an hour. That bolt-on approach allows technicians to move operations from one project location to another location without having to transport the heavy forestry removal equipment.

"You just lease the heavy machinery at the new site and attach the modular control kit onto the newly leased equipment," said Charles Pregeant, lead engineer of the Huntsville Center team. "This provides an extraordinary cost savings to the project when transportation costs of these large machines are over $10,000 each."

Each of the robotics-equipped machines has multiple cameras that transmit images back to the mobile command centers, where operators use video game controllers connected to laptop computers to guide the machines' movements. 

"Manual removals methods are dangerous and expensive to implement, and armored equipment can only protect the operator from fragmentation, but not the over pressure from larger munitions that could possibly explode during the cleanup operations,” said Spencer O'Neal, Huntsville Center vegetation clearance project manager for the Fort Bragg project.    “Using the second-generation remotely controlled heavy equipment ... here at this Fort Bragg range has been highly successful and is potentially saving lives."

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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