Free space optical (FSO) communication has enjoyed a renewal of interest in the past decade driven by
increasing data rate requirements and decreasing amounts of radio frequency spectrum. These needs exist in
both the commercial and military sectors. However military communications requirements differ in other
ways. At the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) we have been conducting research on FSO
communications for over ten years with an emphasis on tactical applications. NRL's FSO research has
covered propagation studies in the maritime domain, new component development, and systems
demonstrations. In addition NRL has developed both conventional, direct, laser communications systems and
retro-reflecting systems. In this paper we review some of this work and discuss possible future applications of
Small robots are finding increasing use for operations in areas that may be dangerous to humans.
These robots often have needs for high bandwidth communications to return video and other data.
While radio frequency (RF) links can be used in may cases, in some circumstances they may be
impractical due to frequency congestion, reflections off surfaces, jamming or other RF noise. In
these cases an optical link may be advantageous, particularly when a clear line of sight exists.
However, a conventional optical link has limitations for this application. For example, a
conventional optical link operating at rates of megabits per second at ranges of 1 Km requires
about a 1 degree pointing accuracy. This implies a need for active pointing and tracking, which
maybe be unacceptable for a small platform. We explored an optical modulating retroreflector
(MRR) link for these cases. An array of 6 MRRs and photodetectors with a field of view of 180 degrees (azimuth)x 30 degrees (elevation) was constructed and mounted a small robot, the iRobot
PackbotTM. An Ethernet modem designed to work with MRR links was also part of the system.
Using a tracking laser interrogator at the other end of the link, a 1.5 Mbps free space optical
Ethernet link was established that completely replaced the normal RF Ethernet link. The link was
demonstrated out to ranges of 1 Km down a road, exceeding the range of the RF link. Design
issues and measurements of performance will be described.
An ongoing effort within the US Naval EOD Technology Division (NAVEODTECHDIV) is exploring the integration of
autonomous robotic technologies onto current and future Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) robot platforms. The
Cooperative Robotics program, though the support of the Joint Ground Robotics Enterprise (JGRE), has identified
several autonomous robotic technologies useful to the EOD operator, and with the collaboration of academia and
industry is in the process of bringing these technologies to EOD robot operators in the field. Initiated in January 2007,
the Cooperative Robotics program includes the demonstration of various autonomous technologies to the EOD user
community, and the optimization of these technologies for use on small EOD Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) in
relevant environments. Through close interaction with actual EOD operators, these autonomous behaviors will be
designed to work within the bounds of current EOD Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP). This paper will detail
the ongoing and future efforts encompassing the Cooperative Robotics program including: technology demonstrations
of autonomous robotic capabilities, development of autonomous capability requirements based on user focus groups,
optimization of autonomous UGV behaviors to enable use in relevant environments based on current EOD TTP, and
finally the transition of these technologies to current and future EOD robotic systems.
Robotic manipulators used on current EOD robotic platforms exhibit very few autonomous capabilities. This lack of
autonomy forces the operator to completely control manipulator movements. With the increasing complexity of robotic
manipulators, this can prove to be a very complex and tedious task. The development of autonomous capabilities for
platform navigation are currently being extensively researched and applied to EOD robots. While autonomous
manipulation has also been researched, this technology has yet to appear in fielded EOD robotic systems. As a result,
there is a need for the exploration and development of manipulator automation within the scope of EOD robotics. In
addition, due to the expendable nature of EOD robotic assets, the addition of this technology needs to add little to the
overall cost of the robotic system. To directly address the need for a low-cost semi-autonomous manipulation capability
for EOD robots, the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division (NAVEODTECHDIV) proposes the
Autonomous Robotic Manipulator (ARM). The ARM incorporates several semi-autonomous manipulation behaviors
including point-and-click movement, user-defined distance movement, user-defined angle positioning, memory locations
to save and recall manipulator positions, and macros to memorize and repeat multi-position repetitive manipulator
movements. These semi-autonomous behaviors will decrease an EOD operator's time on target by reducing the
manipulation workload in a user-friendly fashion. This conference paper will detail the background of the project,
design of the prototype, algorithm development, implementation, results, and future work.
Within the military, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) community has been an early adopter of robotic capabilities. The Joint Service EOD (JSEOD) Program is in the process of fielding its third generation of robotic systems to the EOD technicians. Robots have been an invaluable asset to the EOD technician, and they have been critical to operations in Iraq as we prosecute the IED problem. This paper provides a brief history of past EOD robotic systems, a description of currently fielded and supported systems, and the future of robotic programs within the Joint Service EOD community.
With the large number of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) being encountered during recent military operations, there exists a need for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) mobile robots. These robots are predominately used for surveillance and neutralization of these explosive threats from a safe distance. The nature of the mission means that these vehicles are prone to being damaged or destroyed. Current commercially available systems, although capable of performing the mission, are costly and in too short of supply to be lost or damaged in large numbers. At last year's SPIE conference the NAVEODTECHDIV proposed an alternative: a low cost, mobile robot which used commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) parts and was tailored to the types of missions that
EOD soldiers commonly perform. The prototype of this low-cost robot, the RAMBOT (Readily Available Maintainable Robot), has been continuously improved over the past year. There have been significant improvements to the original design in the areas of communication, manipulation, and electronics. The result of this work is a final prototype design, which is currently undergoing extensive testing to characterize its capabilities. Some of these tests include vehicle characteristics such as vehicle speed and mobility, vehicle weight and size, as well as maximum effective communication range, susceptibility to temperature, manipulator load limitations, and battery longevity. This conference paper will present the design changes to the robot and fully report on the results from the test series conducted thus far.
The continuing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in a rapidly growing demand for mobile robots to be used during Explosive Ordnance Disposal operations. These robots are predominately used by EOD technicians for surveillance and neutralization of explosive threats from a safe standoff distance. The hazardous nature of the mission these vehicles help perform requires them to be expendable. Current commercially available systems, however, although capable of performing the mission, are costly and are not currently available in the large quantities needed by EOD technicians. The Naval EOD Technology Division (NAVEODTECHDIV) proposes an alternative; a low cost, mobile robot using Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) parts that is specifically tailored to perform hazardous EOD missions. The main functions of this robot are efficient surveillance and explosive threat neutralization. The use of COTS parts allows for streamlined field supportability and repair. A proposed speed of five miles per hour is a drastic improvement over many existing EOD robots and will allow EOD teams to quickly survey and assess potentially dangerous situations. The manipulator will be capable of precision placement of neutralization charges. The cost of this proposed robot is $10,000. Current commercial robots capable of performing these EOD tasks range in price from $40,000 to over $150,000. This conference paper will describe the robot design and prototyping process, from gathering requirements to fabrication and testing.