12 March 2012
(Odometer, 15,750 miles)
MELBOURNE, Fla.–The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been defined by the roadside bomb, or improvised explosive device (IED). It has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians and maimed tens of thousands more.
The movie "The Hurt Locker" portrayed the situation from the perspective of the bomb-disposal expert, clad in somewhat protective clothing and spending his time defusing bombs that can destroy a city block.
But while the bad guys are hard at work arming and planting the bombs, technologists are just as hard at work coming up with solutions. Perhaps the most important recent innovations are those that are taking the well-established bomb-disposal robot to a new level.
At Harris Corp., here, the military contractor had been describing a haptics-based robotic technology for years to potential customers. It was a technology used in a product for an undisclosed government customer.
Harris engineers would say to the prospect customers, in demonstrating the technology, "The kinda system you're looking at you could use for something like roadside bomb disposal," said Paul Bosscher, chief technologist. "And after telling that story a few times, we said (internally), you know we could use this system for roadside bomb disposal."
That led to the development of a robotic arm with multi-axis sensor and astonishing haptic sensitivity (see an earlier segment about haptic technology at University of Pennsylvania) that can be retrofitted onto the hundreds of robots the military deploys today, all with an eye toward power management sensitivities.
So soldiers can control the bomb removal device from a safe distance at little or no risk to themselves. Watch Bosscher describe the robot, and see how it works (trust me: the haptic feedback is amazing):