17 Mei 2011

Versatile Robot Ally for the Future

17 Mei 2011

An SAF Combat Engineer controlling the Rush Demonstrator UGV using the remote control unit. The Rush Demonstrator has a communication range of beyond 400m to ensure that its operators are at a safe distance away. (photo : Cyberpioneer)

Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs), or simply "robots" in lay man terms, are fast shaping the way developed militaries conduct operations. Unlike Unmanned Aerial Vehicles which enable commanders to make key strategic decisions faster and with more accuracy, UGVs are valuable assets in another way.

The Army, which has been looking into UGV technology for about a year, recently unveiled the Rush Demonstrator UGV which aims to address requirements for a future spectrum of operations.

Before the advent of UGVs, repetitive and tedious tasks such as mine clearance and casualty evacuation required sizeable manpower. Imagine an asset which can work autonomously, constantly sweeping the ground to detect and remove land mines, or an automated system that transports wounded soldiers to the nearest medical post.

That asset, comes in the form of a UGV which the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries have used to great effect in Iraq and Afghanistan. To put it simply, UGVs proved their worth in performing repetitive but highly dangerous tasks that a soldier would be subjected to as combat operations progress.

Building on success

After achieving success in developing amini-UAV, DSO proceeded to take up the role of developing a UGV tomeet the Army's operational needs. To enhance their capacity tosupport the Singapore Armed Forces' exploration into UGVs for future force development, DSO developed a UGV with a much higher payload capacity for integrated payloads, as well as towed or dragged loads.

Dubbed the "Rush" for its comparatively fast ground speed, the UGV is designed to be a highly robust and deployable system that can potentially cover multiple roles such as forward tactical surveillance, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosive defence, combat support, and even casualty evacuation.

It is currently designed to support two modular mission payloads, the Electro-Optical/Infrared Camera and the Manipulator Arm and Gripper, which are within the maximum allowable payload weight.

The Rush Demonstrator UGV, with its electro-optical camera and manipulator arm payloads, can carry up to 30kg payloads, tow a 60kg trolley and drag a 30kg load from its rear. (photo : Cyberpioneer)

Performance for the future

The Rush Demonstrator, which weighs about 40kg, has successfully demonstrated the capacity to carry a 30kg load. It can also tow a 60kg trolley and drag a 30kg load by the rear.

To achieve this impressive power-to-weight ratio for a UGV of this weight class, the design team built the platform using high torque electric motors, which also allow the system to move at a maximum ground speed of 7km per hour.

The system has successfully completed environmental-worthiness tests and demonstrated several engineering innovations by DSO, such as a form-specific integrated circuit board design, common payload connectors and integrated heat sinks.

With its Electro-Optical Camera and Manipulator Arm, the Rush Demonstrator can support certain explosive ordnance disposal tasks and real-time tactical surveillance.

Surpassing expectations

While the team had set out to explore what could be achieved within the local defence science ecosystem, what they eventually came up with exceeded even their own expectations, said Captain (CPT) Gilbert Foo, Weapons Staff Officer, Army Systems Integration Office and officer-in-charge of the Rush Demonstrator Project.

Following the Rush Demonstrator's success, the Army will proceed to go into full-scale development, which will be applied to niche applications.

Robotics are expected to be next revolution in military affairs because of the benefits provided by such systems in countering insurgency warfare. The realisation of key enablers promoting the use of UGVs, such as better networks, artificial intelligence and more efficient approaches to power and energy all make UGVs a viable option for the future, said Colonel (COL) Tan Chor Kiat, Chief Systems Integration Officer.

"We want to position ourselves favourably to capitalise on this potential game changer as this technology matures,"said COL Tan.

With so much going for the platform, its future is bright. According to CPT Foo, the Rush Demonstrator has been used in several studies. One example: the 2nd Singapore Infantry Regiment tried the system as part of tactics development under the Army's infantry motorisation studies.

"The study told us a lot about what is needed in a UGV and what isn't, for a particular group and we will leave it to further studies to indicate if something like Rush Demonstrator is needed," added CPT Foo when asked about the system's future.


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