This New Backpack Robot Can Clear Minefields
Nerve-gas-proof portable ‘bot to disarm IEDs
The U.S. Army is developing a robot that can scout enemy positions or detonate improvised explosive devices—and yet is small enough to fit into a soldier’s backpack.
The Army has said that not having such man-portable robots resulted in a “disproportionate number of casualties” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Troops had to locate mines, IEDs, unexploded bombs and enemy weapons caches using handheld devices like mine detectors.
These devices can’t be remotely operated, which means the user has to stand over the mine … sometimes with unfortunate results.
So the Army wants a robot that can work while the operator remains at a safe distance. The device could conduct reconnaissance and clear IEDs—and do it all in areas contaminated with radiation or chemical weapons.
The Common Robotic System (Individual) should weigh no more than 20 pounds, including the robot and its handheld control unit, according to the Army’s specifications. This would actually make the mine-clearing robot lighter than the 28-pound M240 machine gun some soldiers carry.
Versions would have a clawed arm to grasp objects or extendable cameras to peek around corners. The ’bot must be able to place a five-pound explosive charge to detonate unexploded bombs.
Operators should wirelessly control the robot from up to a third of a mile away. Users could set up the robot within three minutes—and swap equipment for different missions within one minute.
Maximum speed would be around five miles per hour. Given militants’ extensive use of tunnels in conflicts such as Gaza, the Army unsurprisingly wants a device that can fit in a two-foot-wide tunnel or sewer as well as function in a foot of standing water or sewage.
We can be pretty certain that the enemy eventually will capture some of the robots. Therefore each robot must have a “render-useless mechanism” that allows operators to remotely disable the robot. The robot’s software must also be resistant hackers’ attempts to reprogram its software or download data.
The CRS (I) concept is still in the early stages, but it shows how robots are becoming indispensable in the struggle against improvised bombs. It’s not that mine-clearing robots don’t already exist. Armies all over the world possess bomb ’bots.
The problem is that larger robots such as the Talon can cost more than $100,000 apiece, which means they tend to belong to specialist troops like combat engineers. And while a three-foot-long, hundred-pound Talon is a midget compared to an M-1 tank or Humvee, it’s too big for a foot patrol struggling up an Afghan mountain.
The Army stresses that these backpack robots won’t carry weapons. However, they will come with a microphone and speakers to allow users to broadcast messages. Perhaps U.S. soldiers could compel the enemy to surrender after sending in a phalanx of little clawed, talking robots.
At top—a Talon bomb-disposal robot. Army photo