Star Wars' R2D2 puts on a badge...
One of the applications developed over recent years has come primarily from military use of robotics, but the effect has been to benefit not only soldiers and sailors, but also first responders. The reconnaissance and surveillance for intelligence gathering needed by law enforcement agencies have been greatly assisted by robotics.
This guide describes some of the industry leaders in tactical robotics and the products they offer that enhance officer and community safety, while gathering the information needed to handle such emergencies as standoffs, barricaded suspects, high-risk serving of warrants, locating armed suspects, confirming the presence of hostages or innocent persons, delivering a cell phone or food, studying contaminated areas, exploring escape routes, examining suspicious objects, or inspecting in and under vehicles.
Applied Research Associates
Applied Research Associates (ARA) develops, manufactures and supports systems for a variety of applications including reconnaissance, explosive device defeat, unexploded ordnance, and hazardous materials handling.
The ARA's "Pointman" unit is a compact (18 pounds and 19-inch wide), water-resistant, unmanned ground vehicle that keeps users at a safe standoff distance while intelligence is gathered. An operator's microphone and headset allow hearing what is occurring around the Pointman unit, and wireless radio communications can function within a range of up to 600 feet. Setup and use are uncomplicated.
The Pointman provides video surveillance of multi-story structures, facility perimeters or vehicles. It operates in daylight or lowlight (e.g. culverts, crawlspaces, under furniture), and has an integrated high-intensity visible light and an IR illuminator to ensure quality video regardless of ambient light conditions. A high-intensity headlight for video operation can be used when no ambient light is present.
An upper camera is used for driving, reconnaissance and surveillance, and the lower camera is for maneuvering under vehicles or when stair climbing. The camera boom assembly lies flat so inspections can occur under vehicles or aircraft. The video monitor is visible through CBRN or similar headgear.
Using wheeled locomotion, the Pointman can move over level terrain, right itself, or climb stairs or obstacles up to 11 inches in height. Its speed is about 5 feet per second, and one to two steps per second when climbing. The unit averages about five to six hours of run time on level to moderate terrain, and about two hours on extreme terrain. The controller is a large, simple joystick style for easy use when wearing gloves. The video display can be linked to an external monitor for evidentiary recording, when necessary.
The unit can be dropped or tossed through a door and a window, and can operate in a confined space. The control system has a fail-safe mode to stop the Pointman automatically upon loss of signal. The unit is suitable for narrow aisles such as those in buses or aircraft. The Pointman can be charged from a vehicle or from wall outlets. For storage or transport, there is a hard shell case weighing less than 60 pounds. ARA has recently added an equipment mount for Pointman that can attach or detach in about a minute. The mounting lets the operator use various tools such as a disruptor.
ARA also manufactures the "Nighthawk," a micro air vehicle useable with minimal training for intelligence gathering and surveillance. The air vehicle is made of carbon fiber to be strong, yet flexible. The unit is launched through a 6-inch diameter tube. Waypoint navigation, touchscreen controls and automated take-off, flight and landing are simple to control.
A "loiter mode" allows circling over a target under surveillance, and a "follow" mode provides intelligence at a fixed distance, for example, ahead of a moving vehicle. A "rally" mode allows retrieving the Nighthawk at an alternate location if the home / starting location is no longer accessible. The Nighthawk can be landed at a failsafe, pre-selected location in the event of loss of communications or GPS capability.
Weighing less than 35 pounds, the Nighthawk has day and night vision and comes fully assembled. It has a range of about 6 miles and a flight time of approximately 60 minutes. It has forward and side-looking cameras, a 26-inch wingspan and a cruising speed of 18-30 knots. It can be hand-toss launched from a standing, sitting or prone position. The complete system also contains a ground control unit, computer, software, game pad, antennae, support kit, cables, tripods, antenna mounts, power converters, and waterproof transport and storage case.
Yes, this is the same company that makes the Roomba(r) for vacuuming, Scooba(r) for floor washing, Verro(r) for pool cleaning, and Looj(r) for gutter cleaning, but its product line also includes a variety of robotic products for public safety's first responders.
The iRobot 110 First Look(tm) is a small, light, throw-able robot for quick situational awareness and observation, and investigation of small spaces. It has about six hours of run time and uses IR to enhance low- or no-light conditions. The 110 First Look weighs about 5 pounds and is only 4 inches tall. It can survive 16-foot drops onto concrete and is waterproof to 3 feet of water depth. It can climb steps or obstacles up to 7 inches and can turn in place and right itself if flipped over.
Four built-in cameras and a line of sight range of up to 656 feet can provide front, rear or side views. Exposure and gain are adjustable and there is pan, tilt and 8X digital zoom capability. The operator control unit weighs 1.8 pounds and has a 5-inch LCD screen with 800 x 480 resolution. The unit uses a game-style layout and an integrated radio. The controller is wearable.
The iRobot 310 Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle is a larger version of a tactical mobile robot that features a range of payloads and sensors for intelligence gathering, including the capability for dexterous manipulation of objects. The unit weighs 29 pounds with no payloads and stands between 9 to 35.3 inches, depending on whether the manipulating device is stowed or extended. It can travel at speeds up to 6.2 mph and can scale 12-inch vertical obstacles, or riser heights of 8 inches on stairs. The modular radio interface accommodates future radio upgrades.
The iRobot 510 PackBot is a military battle-tested unit that has proven itself in such work as neutralizing roadside bombs, car bombs and other IEDs; screening vehicles, cargo, buildings and people for traces of explosives; and searching buildings, bunkers, routes to be cleared, caves, tunnels and sewers. It is modular, adaptable and expandable, and can be deployed by one person in less than two minutes. It relays real-time video, audio and sensor data to the operator staying a safe standoff distance away.
A variety of interchangeable payloads, sensors and other tools enable different missions, but changes of configuration can be done quickly. The unit can climb stairs, roll over debris, and navigate narrow passageways. Speed is up to 5.8 mph and it can travel grades up to 60 degrees. The unit is submersible up to 3 feet of water. If communications are disrupted, the unit automatically retraces its approach path to restore communications. It also rights itself if flipped over, and automatically adjusts for bumps or debris.
Since 2006, ReconRobotics has been a leader in tactical, micro-robot systems, commercializing robotics technology that has been developed at the University of Minnesota Distributed Robotics Laboratory. Distributed in more than 30 countries, the company's products focus on robotic devices that protect personnel, minimize collateral damage, and gain intelligence within potentially dangerous or hostile environments. The company's original Throwbot(r) (now retired from the product line) was first introduced in 2007.
The company's present clientele includes the military and over 500 tactical teams and counter-terrorism units worldwide. ReconRobotics created the tactical micro-robot when it first introduced the Recon Scout Throwbot (now retired). Currently, more than 2,000 of the company's robots are deployed in Afghanistan where they are used to clear compounds and other structures, and to search for and/or inspect suspected IEDs. The company states it has nearly 550 tactical teams and counter-terrorism units worldwide among its clientele.
The Throwbot LE is specifically designed for law enforcement applications where immediate video reconnaissance is needed in situations or searches including such activity as domestic situations, checks on welfare, confined space searching, or interrupted robberies. It weighs 1.1 pounds to make it easy to transport and deploy, and it can survive horizontal throws of 50 feet and drops of 15 feet. Transmitting video up to 100 feet indoors and 300 feet outdoors, it provides clear video even in low-light conditions. It is compatible with the company's line of accessories including a monitoring station, car charger and SearchStick.
The Throwbot XT is the newest in the product line. It is an extremely small (1.2 pounds) unit and operates at 22 decibels to be quiet running. It provides both video and audio reconnaissance to tactical operators during high-risk callouts involving hostages, barricaded subjects, surveillance operations and raids. It is a throwable, mobile micro-robot, inherently water and dust resistant. It can be thrown up to 120 feet.
Its IR optical system activates automatically when the ambient light is low so the operator can see even if there is complete darkness. Once deployed, the micro robot can be directed by the operator to move quietly and transmit video and audio to the handheld control unit. Up to three robots can be operated in the same environment at the same time, using any of three predetermined transmitting frequencies.
ReconRobotics manufactures a mobile reconnaissance robot with the capability of seeing in complete darkness. The Recon Scout(r) IR uses an infrared optical system, and transmits clear, real-time video to the operator's unit or the command post. The unit is sold primarily to tactical teams.
ReconRobotics has alternate frequency robots that allow operating two robots in the same environment at the same time for two different views of the environment without overlap or disruption. Or, two floors of the same structure can be examined at the same time, giving each entry team its own robot and cutting reconnaissance time.
The Recon Scout UVI robot is for undercarriage inspection of vehicles. Its optical systems can operate in extremely low light and transmit video up to 300 feet away to a handheld operator's control unit, or up to 1,000 feet away to a monitoring station. The portability of the unit makes it suited for short-term security situations where temporary checkpoints and inspections are needed. It has auto-focus optics and a 60-degree field of view and thus can inspect most vehicles with just one pass and a direct, not reflected / mirror, view.
RoboteX products bring simple and easy-to-use designs that will directly benefit users. In addition, the company works directly with users to include the capabilities in the product that are important to the users' specific missions.
Robotex's AVATAR(r) II is a rugged, yet easy-to-use tactical robot for inspecting dangerous situations. It features a drive camera, built-in IR light, high-intensity front headlight, a 360-degree pan/tilt/zoom camera, front articulated flippers, stabilizing rear flippers, two-way audio, high-powered Wi-Fi radio, and an easy-to-open battery bay.
Battery life is about four to five hours, and the unit has a 900-foot operating range. It has a unique "Toe-in-Track Design" that features a slightly off-parallel track for improved maneuverability. It can climb up to a 60-degree incline and self-rights if flipped upside down.
The Avatar II's features reflect the company's goal of an easy-to-use product in the handheld controller, touchscreen capability, live video and audio with automatic IR, video and audio recording capability, and the unit's ability to navigate a variety of terrain including dirt, grass, sand, gravel, clothing and water. Unit weight is 23 pounds. All robot purchases come with packed-in controller and the robot and accessories are covered by a one-year warranty, with extended three-year warranties also available.
ECA-SSI Tactical Robots
Simulator Systems International has been an innovating manufacturer since 1976 and is part of the ECA Group, a technology-based conglomerate of companies with specialized products for military, commercial and municipal clients. The company offers a broad range of design, engineering and manufacturing to meet the needs of applications of robotics to the law enforcement community.
The company's new Python HTR is a medium-sized device that can climb stairs and cross difficult terrain, and needs only a sole operator. The unit offers a simple operator control software system that uses an intuitive interface for touch gestures to control the robot, adjust cameras, modify settings, and change views. It transmits in static-free video up to its range limit and provides communication range of over one-half mile. Sensors for CBRN and HAZMAT can be quickly attached.
A mesh of networking capabilities enables the operator to control multiple robots or relay surveillance cameras at the same time using one control unit. A robot further downrange can be relayed through another robot on the network to control the more distant robot. This enables relaying and redirecting signals around buildings or other obstacles.
Since the operator can also drive multiple unmanned robot units into place remotely, a series of mobile signal transmission points can be repositioned as necessary to maintain optimal signal strength. The robot's power can only be turned on or off with an ignition key, preventing flipping a switch to defeat the unit downrange. Four IR LEDs provide 360-degree IR illumination for low- or no-light operation.
The Python unit runs four hours or on six hours standby and can climb most stairways. It runs about 3.4 mph. It is less than 50 pounds and can be deployed by one person. It also has a towing package capable of pulling up to 220 pounds. Accessories can be attached for manipulator arms, additional cameras, LEDs, disruptors and more.
The Sidewinder is a low-profile unit for under-vehicle surveillance or other covert applications. It has twin 24-volt drive motors and a track drive to move through cluttered environments or up short riser stairs. It can be configured with additional sensors, LEDs, cameras disruptors or manipulator arms.
The Sidewinder XL has all the features and capabilities of the Sidewinder unit, plus the added functionality of a four-axis manipulator arm and three additional cameras. The arm is modular and can be easily removed for operations not needing the arm functionality. In essence, the product is two robots for the price of one. It can also be configured with additional sensors, LEDs and disruptors.
The Copperhead is a lightweight (17 pounds), easy-to-use unit for surveillance. The color day/night camera has 0 Lux IR capability. Four motors drive the large, foam-filled tires to go over ground clutter inside or outside. There is audio and video feedback at the controller, pan and tilt camera functionality, and a lock and key to power the device on and off. It offers a six-hour run time and batteries can be changed in seconds. It can be configured with additional LEDs, cameras and sensors. It moves about 5.4 mph.
Stephenie Slahor, Ph.D., J.D., writes in the fields of law enforcement and security. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.