My Robot Designs - the List!

In my official biography, I said that I have designed of over 20 unmanned vehicles over the years. You may wonder, what 20 vehicles am I talking about? I fell that I need to provide a list of all my original designs – time to “put up or shut up”. So here is the official list - to date:

So in this definition of “vehicle”, we will have anything that can move on its own – on wheels, tracks, or treads, float, swim, or fly. My smallest unmanned ground vehicle weighed just three pounds, while the heaviest a whopping 28,000 lbs (14 tons).

I’m not going to count some of my robots – my first commercial robot design was a key cutting CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) machine for Southern Steel, designed by myself and an ace machinist named Rusty Lawrence. This machine combined pneumatics and electric stepper motors to cut the notches in jail cell keys. I’ve not had any contact with these people in decades, so don’t ask any more questions about it.

I also worked on the design of all the robots on the International Space Station. When I started in 1989 on ISS, it had a lot more robots than it has today. We had three main types – the OMSS or Orbital Maneuver Support System—also called the OMV, a sort of “Space Tug” that was designed to go out and retrieve satellites and bring them to the Space Station for servicing. This requirement was dropped pretty quickly, but I spent about a year trying to figure out how to command this thing. The next robot was the Flight Telerobotic Servicer, or FTS. This was a three-armed robot to repair the outside of the space station so that astronauts did not have to go EVA for smaller repairs or services. This became “RoboNaut", the dexterous telerobotic astronaut. My job was to figure out how to run the robot from the ground – with a 10 second round trip latency delay – a real challenge. We met that challenge by suggesting that we add a laser rangefinder or 3D LADAR (laser radar) that allowed the robot to see depth – then we could do what I called “Goal Oriented Programming” – give the robot the goal to reach and let it figure out how to get then. Then the latency was irrelevant. I got to work on the Canadian Robot Arm that was deployed on the station, and its unique "inch-worm" ability to crawl about the station.

I really got serious about robots after participating in the DARPA Grand Challenge. I was part of Team CyberRider, and we had a sand rail – a off-road race car. I designed a race management, goal planning, and terrain avoidance software architecture for CyberRider, along with designing a LADAR simulator/ stimulator that was used to train the car’s autopilot. I had very little to do with the design of the vehicle, which was off the shelf for the most part. One unusual aspect of CyberRider is that all of the actuators, that would normally be powered by hydraulics, had water in their lines – one of our sponsors was a company that made irrigation and water purification plant equipment, and they donated a bunch of water hydraulic pistons for the vehicle. We never worred about hydraulic leaks, and it made cleanup a lot easier.

1). So my first original design robot was one that I’m really proud of. I called it the ACR – Advanced Combat Robot. This robot had both wheels and legs, and could either roll or walk. It was about 18’ tall, and could be armed – which is to say, it could have two massive robot arms. I also designed a “shield”, a means to defend the robot against Rocket Propelled Grenades, which I need to apply for a patent for, so I won’t say more about it here. The ACR was a modular system that could be reconfigured into a 1) A transport version 2) an armored and armed (weaponized) version, and a 3) Scout reconnaissance version.

2) BattleBot Light: I was asked by a friend of mine to design a series of "battlebots" - fighting robots - that a high school or junior high school class could assemble, program, and use. I came up with a common set of electronics, motors, switches, and relays that could be re-assembled into three chassis types: spinner, two-wheel drive wedge and four-wheel drive slammer. My particular innovation in this class was to propose that all armor be made of wood and be sacrificial - this made for easy, cheap repairs, protected the robot, and made for a spectacular fight with wood chips flying everywhere. These robots weighed between six and 10 lbs.

3) Scout Reconnaissance robot: I designed a series of robots to meet a specific set of requirements for perimeter security at large facilities like airports. My design was a multiple robot family that each could dock to the other, creating either a 4x4, 8x8 or 12x12 wheel configuration, depending on the terrain and the duration of the mission. The robots were designed to self-rescue and recover in case that one got stuck or disabled. I also put a lot of thought into "anti-tamper" measures to prevent the robots from being stolen.

4) As part of the Future Combat Systems, we had to do a lot of experiments and prototypes. One of the things I was worred about was the weight of the FCS MULE vehicle, being designed by Lockheed. I designed several variations of the MULE’s iconic six-wheel articulated suspension system to reduce cost, weight, and power. I build a small 1/10th scale prototype MULE to test some of these ideas, out of components I had lying around. We also used this vehicle for some video testing. This vehicle was to prove that a passive (unpowered) center wheel would still meet all of the MULE’s mobility requirements.

5) Dump Truck – One of my articles in ROBOT magazine detailed this small robot dump truck that was designed to deliver papers around an office. You loaded the paperwork in the hopper, and it followed a tape line to another office, and when the tape ran out, it turned around, dumped out the report, and returned.

6) Tube Launched UAV. To meet a requirement for a tube-launched UAV that could be carried on an unmanned ground vehicle, I designed a variation of the oblique-wing design (or Scissor Wing) that folded in a tube and was powered by a ducted fan engine. A small rocket propelled it out of the tube.

7) ¼ Scale Armed Robotic Vehicle (ARV) – I designed a smaller version of the FCS Armed Robotic vehicle, when it still had tracks. This smaller plywood replica was to be an education and public relations tool, but still have some autonomy – and it carried a .50 caliber paint ball gun powered by CO2.

8) The Beagle Robot – the Beagle is a small, semi-autonomous robot that was designed to perform scouting mission for armored vehicles, and to be a CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, Nuclear) sensor platform. We built 4 Beagle prototypes at Elbit Systems, but I’m only counting that as one vehicle. The Beagle could take a lot of different sensors, including the FIDO explosive detection system, air monitoring sensors, and radiation sensors. The Beagle just happens to fit perfectly in a 24" drainage pipe. We designed both tether and radio control interfaces, and you could monitor the video on an Apple iPhone, and pass control of the robot from operator to operator.

9) ARCHER Hybrid electric vehicle – I collaborated with Reflexx Robotics to finance the construction of a small – 300 lbs – hybrid electric vehicle. Basically a self-driving golf cart, the Archer was to act as a carrier for troop’s gear in Iraq, and to act as a portable power station, recharging batteries and providing communications for a squad of four.

10) LAVR – Light Armored Robotic Vehicle. This concept I pitched to the USMC, to take their LAV – Light Armored Vehicle – and turn it into an unmanned vehicle. They happened to have hundreds of these six-wheel drive amphibious vehicles sitting around in the desert not being used – I wanted to put them to work as autonomous scout vehicles.

11) PVIR – Portable Vehicle Immobilization Robot – a response to an Army RFP for a means to stop car bombs. This robot was designed to non-lethally attack and disable approaching car bombs attacking a military base by flipping the car on its side. I’m really proud of this concept. The PVIR was an electric dragster and was to go from 0 to 100 in three seconds.

12) SUMPTER – the SUMPTER was my name for another try at a logistics support robot for foot patrols – this time for a USMC requirement to support a squad of 8-10. I based my robot on the Mudd-Ox, a eight-wheel drive ATV. As you might guess, this robot was to be a rival to the SMSS by Lockheed. The unusal name is a civil-war era name for a pack horse. The Sumpter was much larger than the Archer and was amphibious.

13) High Speed Amphibian – I worked with Ken Warnecke and his FastTrack Amphibian company to design a small, high speed amphibious (land and sea) robot that could be used by river patrols and jungle patrols as a scout vehicle. It would lauch from a boat, run at 20-30 mph to the shore and then drive onshore and look around. This is another of those great solutions still looking for the right customer. This robot would have reused much of the Beagle’s hardware architecture.

14) Cheap Access to Space – I collaborated with Gerry Tyra, an engineer at Lockheed, on a response to the Bigelow Prize to put a fair amount of weight into orbit (remember, I used to work at NASA). We designed a much bigger version of my swing-wing or oblique wing UAV design (the tube launched UAV) into a vehicle that would be launched from a large aircraft (C-5 or C-17) and then fly into space. It would re-enter and land as the space shuttle does.

15) X-Wing Submarine Launched UCAV – DARPA let out a request for proposals for a submarine launched UAV, and I came up with a “X-wing” shaped aircraft that had two wings that folded up into the fuselage. It worked out that the control surfaces with this configuration meant that the aircraft did not need a tail – unlike my earlier tube-launched UAV designs.

16) AEODRS – I designed a two-armed robot, with the Archer’s base as a start, to be a candidate for the US Navy’s Advanced Explosive Ordinance Disposal Robotic System (AEODRS) contract. My design had two very dexterious robot arms, and I partnered with the DaVinci robot arm guys – you know, the guys who pioneered robotic surgery. The hybrid electric base meant this robot would have had a 48 hour runtime.

17) EATR – Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot – I was recruited by Dr. Bob Finkelstien, a long-time collaborator from my FCS days – to help with the DARPA EATR project. I raised $100,000, that was matched by DARPA, to help fund the project. We also worked with Jim Albus, who pioneered unmanned vehicles at NIST, and Dr. Bilal Ayyub, at the University of Maryland. I delivered a 6DOF robot arm for this project, and did some artwork on what the final EATR might look like that received widespread publication.

18) SARC – Small Autonomous Route Clearance – a robot that is designed to find and remove landmines and buried IED’s in Afghanistan. SARC was designed to clear footpaths and smaller areas. I took equal parts of the Archer and an all-terrain vehicle, along with two robot arms- one for digging and one for manipulating. SARC’s true secret was its use of multiple sensors and machine learning capability to perform data fusion. Since SARC actually digs up landmines, it has more ability to learn from its mistakes - right up to the point where it gets blown up. Remember that I was part of the team designing the counter-mine MULE, so this was not my first counter-landmine robot.

19) Anti-IED UGV. I never came up with a satisfactory name for this robot. It was designed from a set of requirements from JIEDDO and from interviews with other robot scientists for a vehicle specifically designed for route clearance for mounted troops. This robot – slightly smaller than an HUMVEE, would be towed behind a HUMVEE and deployed as necessary. It used a custom designed suspension that I created, that was part WWII half-track and part Mars Rover Rocker Boogie suspension. I wanted it to have the same mobility as the MULE, but be a lot cheaper to build. The front section had the tool interface from a Bobcat tractor, so it had access to all of the custom Bobcat tools – bulldozer blades, diggers, mowers, etc. Then it had a big robot arm, and advanced EO/IR sensors. I created a variation that was optionally manned, with two jump seats. In a pinch it could also be used for casualty evacuation. Its main role was to push either a mine roller to find landmines and IED’s, or to use ground-penetrating radar to find buried explosives.

20) TailSitter UAV. As part of my research into the active deployment of unmanned ground vehicles, it was apparent that the ultimate desire was to have some sort of built-in overwatch capability to plan farther ahead than the vehicle could see. We needed a UAV that could be launched and recovered from onboard a ground vehicle. The requirements were for a compact vehicle that could launch, fly at high speed, and be recovered on a moving vehicle. I decided on a tail sitter configuration with a X-shaped wing planform with four equal sized wings that act as either rudders or wings based on their orientaton. This aircraft had the advantage of flying at any roll attitude, removing the need for a two-axis EO/IR gymbal – it only needed one axis. The final configuration had two engines, ducted fans to protect the props from vegetation, and a side looking EO/IR package.

21) Beagle Pup. As part of the Beagle Program, we were trying to overcome some of the common problems that robot have deployed in the field. A big problem is short radio range. As one soldier told me, “There is no FCC in Iraq” – the radio spectrum is often unusable, or has only short line-of-sight range. We took a small robot platform from the Machine Labs, who built the Beagle chassis for me, and added a radio relay, to create the Pup, a smaller robot that could be deployed along with the Beagle or Archer to extend their radio range. The Pup was self-propelled (could drive by itself) so that it could self-retrieve after the mission – this was much easier than having a static radio relay that had to be retrieved with the robot arm on the bigger Beagle or Archer – in practice that took a long time, where as driving the Pup back was very fast. I was particularly pleased when I found a video-audio-wireless LAN combination board that weighed just 8 ounces for the Pup.

22) Polymorphic Robot: I wanted to design a robot that had the utmost versatility and mobility - to climb stairs, look over obstacles, power over rocks, and also to fit into small places. The Polymorphic robot had a version of legs that had tracks on the ends in a triangle arrangement. it could stand up like a two-legged walking robot, or squat down very small and fit through an 18"x18" hole. It included a robot arm and at full extension was over 6 feet tall.

Well, that is 22 so far. I did not include other people's designs that I worked on - the Lockheed MULE and it three versions, the BAE Armed Robotic Vehicle and its two versions, and the ACTV Unmanned Surface Vehicle, to name a few - that would put the number of unmanned vehicles that I've worked on over 30, and I'd include the International Space Station in that number, since we designed it to operate unmanned in its early construction phase. I've also done years and years of work on UAV's, UAV sensors and UAV control systems.

I told my son, Corbin, that I would someday design a 60-foot-tall giant robot, and I've struggled with figuring out what to do with it. Construction comes to mind, as does firefighting and heavy rescue. I made some early swipes at what such a robot would look like and be able to do, so I'm not done yet. I'm hoping that the next stage of my career includes designing manned and unmanned aircraft, which is my true love. Wish me luck.

1 comment:

Please refrain from offensive language. Creative substitutes are encouraged.