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Robots may save lives on the battlefield

How do you rescue wounded Soldiers under fire without losing more lives? One answer
may be the BEAR (Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot), which would be used to recover
a wounded soldier and bring him or her back to where a combat medic could safely
conduct an initial assessment. A motion-capture glove or specially equipped rifle grip
would allow a warfighter to control the robot remotely while still carrying out his or her
other tasks.

These technologies have been tested together over the past year by Soldiers at the
U.S. Army Infantry Center Maneuver Battle Lab at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command’s Telemedicine and
Advanced Technology Research Center has helped fund the development of Vecna
Technologies’ humanoid BEAR, and has funded integration of AnthroTronix’s iGlove
and M4 rifle grip controller into the Fort Benning testing. Dr. Gary Gilbert, who manages
TATRC’s medical robotics portfolio, said the assessments provide a key link between
research and actual robots that can be used in the field.

“Our goal with the Battle Lab testing is to get the technology in the hands of the Soldiers,
either through simulations or live exercises, and derive from their feedback what tactics,
techniques and procedures are appropriate for deploying it,” explained Gilbert. “These
TTPs can then serve as the basis for developing real world operational capability needs
and requirements. It’s only once we know how we’ll successfully use these technologies
that you’ll see them put into the field.”

A computer simulation of the BEAR was created in 2009 for use in the Battle Lab’s
OneSAF (One Semi-Autonomous Forces) combat operations simulator. An initial series
of platoon level assaults and clearing operations in both wooded and urban terrain were
executed in OneSAF, including casualty extractions using both conventional litter
rescues and rescues with the BEAR. The AnthroTronix remote control systems were
integrated with the simulation in December 2009. In June 2010, the BEAR and
AnthroTronix controllers underwent live characterization studies with Soldiers observing
their capabilities in both urban and wooded terrain.

The BEAR is a multimodal, high degree of freedom robot that can reach out with its
hydraulic arms to lift and carry up to 500 pounds; complete fine motor tasks with its
hands and fingers; maneuver with a dual-track system; stand up and balance; and use
cameras and sensors. It gained national media attention when it was featured in Time
Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2006. Successive versions have increased its capabilities.
While the initial control of the BEAR is via a remote human operator, work
is underway for more complicated semi-autonomous behaviors in which the robot
understands and carries out increasingly higher-level commands.

AnthroTronix’s iGlove gesture recognition device can control robots remotely through
simple hand signals. The Mounted Force Controller is a robot controller device that can
be mounted on an M4 rifle so a soldier does not have to put down his or her weapon to
use the device. The iGlove is a low-cost, universally compatible control device that has
been available commercially since 2009 as the AcceleGloveTM. The company plans to
develop a new version with more accelerometers and a digital compass so the user
could instruct a robot to disable an improvised explosive device or travel exactly 300
yards west, for example, using signals from the glove alone.

Noted AnthroTronix Chief Technology Officer Jack Vice, a former Force Recon Marine,
“One of the most promising outcomes of the Battle Lab simulations and live testing was
the fact that warfighters only required minimal training to learn to operate both the iGlove
and MFC. Additionally, in comparing the iGlove to traditional controllers, warfighters
favored the simplicity of the iGlove mode switching, in which they simply reached out
and touched the human joint to control the corresponding robotic joint.”

Vice added, “TATRC support has enabled us to fully integrate the controllers with Joint
Architecture for Unmanned Systems software, gain invaluable feedback from Soldiers,
and develop new control methodologies as we integrate the controllers with high-degree-
of-freedom robots such as the BEAR.”

“If robots could be used in the face of threats such as urban combat, booby-trapped
IEDs, and chemical and biological weapons, it could save medics’ and fellow Soldiers’