New system seeks to upgrade explosive ordnance disposal robots, aid technicians
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, OHIO (AFRL) — A new system seeks to aid explosive ordnance disposal, or EOD, technicians by adding a simple and inexpensive system to improve depth detection while controlling disposal robots to manage counter-improvised explosive device, or C-IED, operations. The system, which increases precision and safety for EOD personnel, is the product of collaboration between the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, AFWERX and Air and Space Force Tech Connect, a service to connect potential partners with Department of the Air Force science and technology experts and opportunities.
“The EOD robot senses its environment using infrared sensors, which is in line with what we do,” said Dr. Mohammad Imran Vakil, senior electronics engineer at AFRL’s sensors directorate. “We’re hopeful our work will save lives and prevent injuries to the Airmen working in the field.”
Vakil specializes in developing sensing system architecture as part of AFRL’s Infra-Red Imaging Systems Lab, using Tech Connect and other outreach methods to stay abreast of new technologies and ideas.
EOD technicians seek to mitigate the risk of explosive materials and other hazards in various environments and situations. Robots are often used in C-IED operations to shield personnel from unnecessary harm.
“Precision is everything for an EOD technician because there is no margin for error,” said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Trombone, EOD Team leader at the 99th Civil Engineer Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. “It is critical that they solve as many problems as possible with their robot before directly exposing themselves to the danger.”
Currently, the robots used by EOD teams do not have a way to determine depth and rely on two-dimensional cameras and displays to operate. Since the robots must navigate three-dimensional environments, the lack of three-dimensional perception can create unnecessary risks not only for EOD technicians but also for civilian bomb squads and allied explosive disposal teams.
The system uses infrared sensors and LED lights to give EOD robot operators an improved sense of depth, allowing them to manipulate the robots more accurately and safely. It also has the advantage of being more cost-effective than other solutions, such as stereoscopic cameras, which are more expensive, susceptible to jamming and more complicated to repair in the field, according to Trombone.
Tech Connect was recommended for the system through AFWERX Refinery, which connects Airmen and Guardians with relevant resources and subject matter experts within the Department of Defense. Tech Connect then provided recommendations on to refine the prototype through collaboration with AFRL engineers.
“Most of us don’t realize how impactful Tech Connect is,” said Dr. Vakil. “[We] can directly have a conversation with engineers and scientists to evaluate if their technology will be a good fit for our needs.”
Next for the new depth perception system is further refining of the prototype in partnership with AFRL engineers with the goal of using more state-of-the-art electronics to make the system smaller, more precise and better suited to long-term sustainment for a future manufacturer, according to Trombone.
The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit www.afresearchlab.com.
About Air Force and Space Force Tech Connect
The Air Force and Space Force Tech Connect website provides access to current, open opportunities, meet-up events, other Department of the Air Force science and technology enterprise connectors and a way for anyone to share an idea. The Tech Connect team, comprised of AFRL personnel, connects quality, relevant ideas/technologies with Department of the Air Force subject matter experts. The team will review ideas/inquiries, provide feedback on innovative ideas and establish a dialogue with potentially interested Air Force and Space Force programs. For more information, visit: https://airforcetechconnect.org/.