Robots are Blazing a Trail in Explosive Ordnance Disposal. Here’s How.

In many countries with a legacy of conflict and in those where ongoing conflict is reported, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices claim thousands of lives. Some of this damage can be assuaged by defusing or clearing munitions, which is the task of highly specialized and skilled experts. However, not every country can afford to build a team of dedicated explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) experts. Even the countries that can often lose some of their best trained personnel during ordnance destruction. In the quest to resolve this issue, innovators in several countries have concluded that explosive ordnance disposal robots could perform the task at hand both precisely and without putting human lives at risk.

Already, the global explosive ordnance disposal market is displaying steady growth, with a projected CAGR of 4.6% between 2015 and 2023, according to Transparency Market Research. The market research firm states that the explosive ordnance disposal market was worth US$5.74 bn in 2014, and will grow to touch US$8.56 bn by 2023. With the introduction of robots that can help dispose explosive ordnance, the market will receive a further push.

Here are a few examples of how robot-assisted explosive ordnance disposal is bringing about a sweeping change in conflict-riddled areas:
  • The Golden West Humanitarian Foundation has partnered with the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction programs and hallowed academic institutions to develop a low-cost robot that can carry out explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). In countries such as Cambodia that have expended precious resources in clearing large swathes of land of unexploded ordnance and lethal landmines, the robot could prove to be a boon. While commercial EOD robots typically cost between US$50,000 and US$100,000, the low-cost version is expected to carry a price tag of approximately US$8,000.
  • At the 2015 World Robot Conference held in Beijing, Chinese firm HIT Robot Group launched a toy-sized robot that can move and defuse explosives. Weighing just 12 kg, the compact robot has been designed to assist EOD experts working alone and can be easily carried by a soldier on the back. The robot’s light weight comes from the materials that make it – industrial plastic and aluminum alloy. The robot comes as part of a three-robot set, which comprises a reconnaissance robot, an armed attack robot, and the EOD robot.
  • Robot Sally, developed by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is among the most sophisticated EOD robots in the world, boasting as many as 42 individual degrees of motion. This gives Sally—officially known as the Bimanual Dexterous Robotic Platform (BDRP)—the ability to function as an EOD surrogate for its human counterparts. The mobile platform, on which the robot’s torso has been affixed, can be controlled using a joystick or pressure sensitive pad. Sally’s arms can be manipulated using telepresence gloves. The controller sees what Sally sees via a motion tracking headset, all in stereoscopic vision. The robot’s head pans and tilts based on its controller’s movements. The U.S. intends to put Sally’s skills to the test in missions in Iraq, among other countries.
By deploying robots in extremely high-risk EOD operations, militaries the world over will be able to put the skills of human soldiers to use in other strategic programs.


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