EOD operators or ammunition technical officers conduct some of the military’s most dangerous jobs, who has the daunting task of dismantling, defusing and disposing bombs and other explosive ordnance, often in the most hostile and challenging of environments. Making this job safer are bomb disposal robots, unmanned vehicles capable of disabling explosive devices without endangering human lives.
However, their mission will only grow as the United States faces an array of threats from countries and non-state actors around the globe, said Army Lt. Gen. Reynold Hoover, deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command. “These competitors, along with North Korea, Iran and terrorist organizations are developing weapons and tactics we haven’t even seen before,” he said. These adversaries often operate in the “gray zone,” where their aggressive and coercive efforts remain below the level of conventional armed conflict, he noted.
Several defence organisations around the world investing in newer unmanned EOD systems. For example, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) invested £55m in Harris Robotics’ T7 bomb disposal robots in 2017, which it states can disarm bombs 20 per cent faster than previous models. A new type of explosive ordnance disposal robot researched and developed by a Chinese company can also dismantle the simple and fixed explosives and prevent unwanted explosions during the removal process, chinanews.com reported.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense (DoD) awarded a $429m contract for unmanned ground robots with EOD capabilities earlier in 2018.The Army envisions the CRS-I vehicles as being applicable for dismounted forces and having payloads for functions such as explosive ordnance disposal, plus detection of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear agents.
The latest bomb disposal robots demonstrate the exceptional level of versatility, dexterity and diversity offered by new platforms to support EOD technicians in achieving their goals more safely and efficiently than ever. The bomb disposal robots will become increasingly adaptable to their environments in the future. There are prototypes being developed that are able to jump over walls and land on the other side. Robot Swarms are also being designed that operate together in teams, where one robot is tasked with sniffing out explosives and another with their disposal.
In 2017, US research institute SRI International unveiled it’s Taurus robot: a bomb disposal robot that allowed operators to control it using a virtual reality headset. This is just the latest in a long line of technology developments for bomb disposal units. In future AI can be used in missions such as explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), route clearance, obstacle breaching, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) reconnaissance—all considered extremely high-risk operations—in a manner that significantly limits troop exposure to these hazards
EOD Disposal Robots
Bomb disposal is the process by which hazardous explosive devices are rendered safe. Bomb disposal is an all-encompassing term to describe the separate, but interrelated functions in the military fields of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and improvised explosive device disposal (IEDD), and the public safety roles of public safety bomb disposal (PSBD) and the bomb squad.
Ammunition Technicians have many tools for remote operations, one of which is the Bomb control robots, or RCV, or remotely controlled vehicle, the earliest one was known as the “Wheelbarrow”. Bomb disposal robots were first invented by Peter Miller, a retired lieutenant-colonel of the British Army who modified his lawnmower, to develop ‘Wheelbarrow’, a remote-control device, and a spring-loaded hook that could be attached to and used to tow a car. As Paul Bosscher, chief engineer at Harris Robotics, says, “popular models like the Wheelbarrow Mark 8s were all made years ago and their technology is now obsolete”.
Bomb disposal robots vary in size, from the stripped-down backpack sized robots that can be carried on a soldier’s back and thrown into buildings, to the size of a ride-on lawnmower, armed with x-ray devices and explosives detectors. The design of bomb disposal robots has changed remarkably little since they were first created, as the core idea remains the same. Whilst the technology has become smaller and more robust, bomb disposal robots are still tracked, human-controlled robots, with an ‘arm’ that can manipulate suspect devices.
By disabling or safely detonating a charge from a long distance, Robot ensures the safety of operator. Many of these robots even have hand-like manipulators in case a door needs to be opened, or a munition or bomb requires handling or moving. Outfitted with cameras, microphones, and sensors for chemical, biological, or nuclear agents, the data sent by robots is analyzed by remotely located bomb squad that helps them plan accident-free bomb defusal or disposal mission.
The arm of bomb disposal robots allows great versatility. Most bomb disposal teams now carry different tools which can be attached to it. This allows the robot to bypass various obstacles that would otherwise impede its progress, such as using wire-cutters to cut wire fences.
Given that bomb disposal robots are intended to operate in a variety of hostile conditions, they are able to withstand a significant amount of punishment. “Most of the cost goes into making the electronics and the sensors robust in really brutal conditions,” says Vijayakumar. “Not as much as in space, but it’s close to that.”
In terms of their mobility, bomb disposal robots have gone from having a single pair of tank-like caterpillar tracks, to variants with two pairs of caterpillar tracks and others that have six or more wheels. This allows bomb disposal robots to traverse ever more difficult terrain. Some designs can even climb stairs.
China Unveils Home-Grown New Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robot
A new type of explosive ordnance disposal robot researched and developed by a Chinese company can also dismantle the simple and fixed explosives and prevent unwanted explosions during the removal process, chinanews.com reported.
When removing the explosive, the existing robots completed this step by clamping it with mechanical arms. However, if the explosive goes off during the movement, it will pose serious risks to people around. Therefore, an explosive containment vessel has been added to this new type of robot, which can safely isolate and automatically assemble or disassemble the dismounted explosive.
The robot is also equipped with an interference instrument to avoid unwanted detonation during the explosive removal. Other similar robots designed to execute similar tasks do not have such a function. However, the name of the company that developed the robot has not been disclosed in the report.
“The explosive ordnance disposal personnel will be able to operate this robot 100 meters away to remove the explosive safely,” said Xiangli Xiaojun, a researcher at the explosion protection and removal lab of SWAT division of Xinjiang public security department
tEODor design and features
Telerob’s remote-controlled telerob Explosive Ordnance Disposal and observation robot, or tEORor, provides enhanced capabilities to explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams. The robot can disarm traps, fireworks, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other hazardous materials, with high reliability and top-notch movement. This bomb disposal robot system is currently servicing military and law enforcement units in more than 41 countries.
The battery-powered tEODor robot system features modular design incorporating a wide array of accessories and advanced technical capabilities. It offers superior safety and protection for EOD personnel. The robot has a length of 1.3m, width of 6.85m, a height of 1.24m and a weight of 375kg. It can carry a payload of 350kg.
tEODor can be equipped with chemical and radiological sensors for reconnaissance activities. The x-ray device is incorporated in the tEODor system to help detect potential hazards and suspicious objects. An integrated diagnostic system enables easy troubleshooting using a special software. The robot also uses several electrical and mechanical tools for bomb disposal operations.
The tEODor can also be mounted with recoilless weapons for disarming improvised explosive devices. The EOD robot features a high-power manipulator arm with safety clutches to lift objects of about 100kg. Mounted on a rotating turret, the manipulator is actuated in six axes. It can reach a distance of 2.86m. The linear axis in the lower arm allows easy investigation of underneath vehicles, and simplifies arm movements along linear paths.
The tEODor system is equipped with two drive cameras, a pan/tilt/zoom overview camera, and a gripper camera to capture high resolution imagery and video in real time. It can be optionally fitted with pan/tilt/zoom night vision or infrared, stereo cameras to capture clear imagery during night operations.
The robot integrates two-way audio transmitter and digital video receiver modules and communication is provided through radio or 200m fibre optic cable. “The tEODor robot system is powered by high-torque drive units.” The bomb disposal robot is operated by a mobile operations control station installed with an inbuilt power supply. The control station features a large, 17in TFT monitor displaying overview of the area.
The imagery and gripper force are displayed on the compact control panel, which is operated separately from the control station. The control panel measures 0.44m in width, 0.35m in height, 0.31m in depth, and weighs 9kg. The tEODor robot system is powered by high-torque drive units. The steel twin-track configuration made from steel allows the robot to traverse uneven surfaces. The running gear is fitted with sprung rollers.
The robot can reach a maximum speed of 3km/h and can climb gradients up to 45°. It has a turning circle of 1.46m and a towing capacity of 3,000N. tEODor can be deployed under all ambient conditions ranging from -20°C to +60°C. The robot can operate for up to four hours.
T7 Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Robot
Bomb disposal robots with technology that allows human operators to “feel” their way through disarming explosive devices have been delivered to the British Army, the Ministry of Defence said. Four Harris T7 unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) costing almost £1 million each have been delivered to explosive ordnance units, the first of 56 due to begin service by 2020. The robots use state-of-the art “advanced haptic feedback”, in which vibration is used to guide an operator’s hand movements as they work to defuse a device from a safe distance.
The T7 robot can be used in various areas including in commercial and military missions such as hazardous materials (HAZMAT) cleanup, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and special weapons and tactics (SWAT) missions.
Features of the bomb disposal robot
The T7 EOD robot system features modular design, which enables integration of a variety of equipment used for mounting standard-issue disruptors and weaponry. It is 120cm-long, 70.1cm-wide and 116.1cm-high, and weighs 342kg when fitted with a manipulator. It uses four Ethernet communication ports 24 VDC connectors.
The robot is equipped with accessories including vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED) defeat kit, skid steer track, four-channel remote initiation system, 275m fibre-optic spooler, and 30kg forklift attachment. Quick-release hub locks can be provided for towing objects. The T7 EOD robot’s manipulator is controlled using a haptic controller from a distance of up to 1km. The controller incorporates daylight visible display, two-way audio communications system, and 4-DOF (degree of freedom) haptic feedback function.
The haptic controller system enables the operator to create preset sequences of tasks for the robot manipulator. It can perform intuitive spatial control with pistol grip over the actuated object. It can also operate the manipulator in motion / rewind modes. Harris Corp’s unveils the T7 Robot for the first time at AUSA (Association of the US Army) convention in 2016
Sensors onboard T7 EOD robot
The robot system has a 120X zoom pan, tilt, and zoom (PTZ) camera mast, which is used to capture imagery and video of suspect objects. It is fitted with two driving cameras for providing increased situational awareness at the front and rear. Four fender-mounted cameras located at the corners allow the operator to manoeuvre the robot in close quarters. The T7 EOD robotic solution also incorporates single or dual-band multiple-input and multiple-output radios.
Power and performance of the T7 bomb disposal robot
Driven by 12 hot-swappable BB-2590 rechargeable Li-ion batteries, the T7 EOD robot can travel at a maximum speed of 3.7mph. Installed with in-vehicle battery charger, the robot is capable of operating for more than four hours. The robot has the ability to climb stairs and slopes of 40° and to traverse lateral slopes of 30°, whereas the turning radius of the robot is 1.39m. The skid steer track offers high mobility for the robot in rough terrain conditions
The ZEUS-HLONS (HMMWV Laser Ordnance Neutralization System), commonly known as ZEUS, was developed for surface land mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) neutralization by the U.S. Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division (NAVEODTECHDIV). It uses a moderate-power commercial solid state laser (SSL) and beam control system, integrated onto a Humvee (HMMWV), to clear surface mines, improvised bombs, or unexploded ordnance (UXO) from supply routes and minefields.
3D Visualization for EOD Robots
NREC developed a plug-and-play camera and range finder module that gives range information and assists operators of EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) robots during manipulation.
NREC’s 3D visualization module adds range information to the video feed from the robot. The distance to the target is overlaid on the video image and updated in real time. The display also includes instructions for controlling the robot’s manipulator joints.
The 3D visualization module replaces the robot’s existing end effector camera. It can easily be added to currently fielded robots without major hardware and software upgrades.