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Marines happily recycle Army bots

Apr. 19, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The Corps' new R2C, based on an old Army robot, offers a suite of upgrades, including tracked flippers for better mobility, improved comm equipment and an upgraded, stronger arm.
The Corps' new R2C, based on an old Army robot, offers a suite of upgrades, including tracked flippers for better mobility, improved comm equipment and an upgraded, stronger arm. (Lance Cpl. Joey Mendez/Marine Corps)
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The Marine Corps is now fielding its next-generation counter-IED robot for route clearance.

Called the RC2, it is based on the Army’s battle-proven 510 Fast Tac Packbot used in Iraq and Afghanistan for several years. With combat operations winding down, the Army identified a surplus of the robots and the Marine Corps seized the opportunity to use the Army’s robot chassis to cheaply develop a new platform.

Marine developers at the Robotic Systems Joint Project Office at the Army’s Detroit Arsenal began tacking on new components to the old chassis to improve maneuverability, dexterity and strength, sensor capabilities and communications systems. The new bots, already in the hands of several units, will be fully fielded by the end of the year.

Changes to the Army’s platform were based on lessons learned from combat.

“The Marine Corps wanted to tie it all together to give us all those capabilities we desired after having used robots for several years in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Marine Col. Ben. Stinson, who heads RS JPO.

Main upgrades include an arm with three links rather than two. The arm is also longer allowing it to hoist a camera up to 90 inches in the air — nearly twice the old height — and reach more than four feet away compared to less than three.

“Ninety inches gets us to most first-story windows and even the ability to look over some high walls,” Stinson said.

The arm is also stronger. It can now lift between 10 and 30 pounds depending on how far it is extended which is twice its old capability.

Additionally, the robot was outfitted with four cameras compared to two giving additional angles of view to evaluate potential threats.

The robot’s communications suite was upgraded to allow it to operate on multiple radio frequencies that accommodate restrictions both in the U.S. and abroad. It can be controlled from 300 meters away, or 800 meters when operators use a more powerful long-range antenna. When radios are undesirable or won’t work, in a tunnel for example, a wire spool can be used to control RC2 from up to 220 meters away. That provides engineers stand-off distance in any situation.

Finally, to help the robot traverse rough obstacles without getting stuck, its forward flippers, which Stinson described as “dumb flippers,” were upgraded to have their own tracked propulsion. The old flippers could be used to elevate the robot’s body, but offered no additional traction.

Several units, including 1st Combat Engineer Battalion at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and 2nd CEB at Camp Lejeune, N.C., have received the robots. Next they are on their way to the Exercise Support Division at Marine Corps Air ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. In all, the Corps plans to produce 46 RC2s, including 18 for the operational fleet, 6 for spares and 22 for schoolhouses and training.

Stinson stressed the importance of counter-IED robots saying that 822 have been destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan since October 2005 when the service began tracking those statistics. Each one of those he considered a saved life or limb. And with 8,000 robots in all deployed during the Global War on Terrorism, countless more likely saved American servicemen without themselves being destroyed.■

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