A patent was recently granted for a process to safely train Soldiers in how to operate a variety of robots used in Iraq and Afghanistan to detonate improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The Robotic Vehicle Trainer is a realistic video game that simulates combat environments using the same controls as actual robots used in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).
The design was the brainchild of Dr. Bernard Reger, Chief of the Combat Support and Munitions Systems Branch of the Armament Software Engineering Center. within the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC). Reger received the patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Dec. 28 (No. 7,860,614).[image align="right" caption="After delivery of new machinery, it can take months of testing before the machine is ready for production. Here, a Hankook lathe, which came from South Korea, is tested before machinists receive operator training. (U.S. Army photo by John Snyder.) " linkto="/web/wp-content/uploads/Robotic-Trainer-2.jpg" linktype="image"]“/web/wp-content/uploads/Robotic-Trainer-2_compressed.jpg” height=”167″ width=”246″[/image]
The patent describes the process by which a robot trainer enables a student to operate a robotic vehicle using a virtual operator control unit within a virtual environment.
“The virtual environment inserts the student into hazardous environments, enabling familiarization with the robotic vehicle and EOD bomb disposal tools,” Reger said. “The robotic vehicle trainer provides EOD Soldiers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the operation of the robot without removing critical assets from the field. It also provides Soldiers the ability to train in what would normally be a dangerous environment. The trainer could be rapidly updated with new tools and techniques of benefit to the Soldier.”
The Army will be able to control the intellectual property of this process if it is used by a contractor in developing robotic vehicle trainers, Reger said.
The virtual operator control unit, which is essentially a video-game controller, is built with the exact same joysticks, switches, dials, and display features as a fielded robot. This allows the Soldier to become familiar with the touch and feel of the real controls while in training. The control unit connects to a laptop computer that runs the software application, allowing trainees to use the system anywhere from the classroom to the field.[image align="left" caption="Using the robotic vehicle trainer developed at Picatinny Arsenal, a student attempts to place a brick of C4 explosive in a location that would destroy nearby IEDs within a virtual training environment. (U.S. Army photo.)" linkto="/web/wp-content/uploads/sample.jpg" linktype="image"]“/web/wp-content/uploads/sample.jpg” height=”167″width=”246″[/image]
Work on this product started in 2003 as an experiment to insert the Talon robot used by EOD Soldiers into a virtual environment using a popular Army-developed game engine, “America’s Army.” The design was originally submitted for a patent application in September 2006.
With more than 8 million registered users, “America’s Army” is an interactive, first-person shooter game that allows civilians a taste of the Soldier’s life. About a year after the video game launched in 2002, ARDEC began to integrate practical training applications into the game for Soldiers.
ARDEC’s Armament Software Engineering Center and the Picatinny EOD Technology Directorate worked together over the next few years to define and refine requirements for a product that could familiarize EOD Soldiers with the operation of the Talon robot and explosive disposal techniques.
“The patent covers the process by which a robot is assembled in the virtual environment and by which the Soldier is provided with the opportunity to test-drive the robot and its tools,” Reger said, adding that the Talon trainer was rebranded as the Man Transportable Robotic System EOD Trainer.
The same process was applied to other robots, including SWORDS (Special Weapons Observation Remote Direct-Action System), EOD PackBot, and the CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) PackBot.
The QinetiQ Talon and the PackBot, made by iRobot Corp., are tracked robots used to disarm IEDs. Because they are remotely operated and equipped with cameras, they allow Soldiers to detonate suspicious objects from a safe distance.
The trainers are meant to familiarize operators with the controls, as opposed to training them in how to respond to different EOD incidents and situations. However, the operators also detonate different types of IEDs using a variety of methods. The IEDs are found in locations realistically reflecting where Soldiers would find them when deployed, such as hidden in sandbags or in courtyards.
Article courtesy of Picatinny Public Affairs.