First-time Demo of Wireless Through-the-earth Command and Control of a Robotic Vehicle
Demo took place at an abandoned coal mine near Springhill, Nova Scotia.
ChronicleHerald—An abandoned coal mine near Springhill, Nova Scotia was the test site this winter for an underground robot communications system developed by Ultra Electronics Maritime Systems Inc. of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
“We wanted to validate the capabilities of the system under the most realistic conditions possible,” Steve Parsons, business development manager at Ultra, said Monday in an interview.
It was a first-time demonstration of wireless through-the-earth command and control of a remotely operated robotic vehicle, Parsons said.
“It’s the first time the capabilities of this technology have been successfully placed on a robot,” he said.
“There are a few other players in this field but they are trailing us.”
Through the Earth Communication (TTE)
Our through the earth (TTE) communication system uses Magneto Inductive (MI) technology with quasi-static AC magnetic fields as a wireless channel for signaling, communications, and navigation. The unique physical properties of the magneto inductive channel enable it to operate through almost any medium including ice, rock, soil, water, and concrete including subterraneous tunnels, caves or bunkers, as well as urban structures.
The MI channel produces no far field (RF) emissions; thereby, eliminating the possibility of detection outside of the operating area. This contributes to the MI channel's high resiliency to conventional electronic warfare countermeasures.
During the trial, Ultra successfully demonstrated a robot operating about 30 metres underground. It was manoeuvred by an operator above ground receiving video from the robot’s onboard camera.
“This is actual transmission of video through the ground, through the use of low-frequency communication technology,” Parsons said.
The robot used in the trial has been nicknamed Maggie — a play on the name of the magneto-inductive technology used as the communications link for the prototype system.
“Maggie is a rugged four-wheel vehicle that is basically a generic robot used for research and development,” Parsons said.
“There are some obvious military applications, and also in the field of explosive ordnance disposal,” Parsons said.
The system can also operate deep underground, underwater, under ice or basically any place where radio frequency systems are unreliable or where the use of a fibre optic tether is impractical or susceptible to entanglement and damage.
“There are some situations where radio frequency or tethered communications are not up to the task,” Parsons said.
“In remote locations, fibre optic cables can break when the robot makes a sharp turn in a tunnel or goes through a doorway.”
Ultra recently demonstrated Maggie at the Ground Robotics Capabilities Conference in San Diego as part of an effort to link with a robotics developer and end user to advance the system and put it into a work environment.
Parsons said the building blocks of the technology can be added to or integrated into any existing robotic platform.
The ability to communicate through the ground has revolutionary implications for the safety of soldiers, emergency responders and law enforcement personnel, especially those who need to send a robot deep inside a building, culvert or other confined space to investigate a potential bomb.
“If a radio frequency or fibre optic cable connection is lost, this can mean the loss of a very expensive piece of equipment or the exposure to a high-risk situation to recovery personnel,” Parsons said.