IRT will become the leading manufacturer of the low-cost robots in the country. The BomBot was originally developed at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
Congressman Alan B. Mollohan, D-W.Va., secured a total of $3.75 million in the 2004 and 2005 Defense Department spending bills for the WVHTC Foundation to prototype, test and evaluate the BomBot. Its success led to the new contract award.
“Through this project, the WVHTC Foundation will play a direct role in improving the safety of our troops in the field,” Mollohan said. “It is an honor for our high-tech community to help mitigate one of the terrible dangers that our men and women in uniform must confront on a daily basis.”
“Advanced robotics is a field with long-term potential. With our traditional manufacturing expertise and our ever-increasing high-tech capabilities, northern West Virginia is positioned to be a significant force in the development of these systems,” Mollohan said.
“The BomBot is a remote control vehicle that safely and inexpensively detonates improvised explosive devices in war zones,” explained WVHTC Foundation President and CEO James L. Estep. “Congressman’s Mollohan’s support has enabled us to have the chance to pursue this opportunity.”
Estep said IRT’s manufacture of the BomBot is a technologically advanced, low-cost solution to destroying IEDs without endangering human beings.
“Without these robots, EOD technicians would have to manually place an explosive charge to destroy an IED,’ he said. “Instead, the IED can be destroyed by approaching it remotely using a BomBot, a highly mobile vehicle that can keep the person operating the vehicle and other soldiers out of harm’s way. Additionally, we can manufacture the BomBot at a fraction of the cost of the robots that have been used for these purposes in the past.”
Earlier versions of robots cost more than $100,000 to build, while the BomBot costs under $5,000. Many current robotic systems are large and must be transported on a HumVee or by trailer and can move at speeds of only a few miles an hour. The BomBot is a miniature, modified, 4x4, remote controlled truck that has been equipped with a camera that can pan and tilt. The BomBot has a simple explosive charge dispenser that acts in much the same way as the bed of a dump truck. This robot, which weighs an estimated 15 pounds and is 20 inches by 20 inches in size, can reach speeds of 30 to 35 miles per hour and is able to quickly and more covertly place a device near an IED to destroy it.
IRT team members include a group of West Virginia-based companies and organizations: Azimuth, Inc., located in Fairmont and Morgantown; Kvaerner Power, Fairmont; and the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing (RCBI), located in Bridgeport, Rocket Center, South Charleston and Huntington.
“Azimuth will provide mechanical and electrical components, including a pan and tilt camera mechanism and an enhanced user interface,” said Brad DeRoos, Vice President of Research and Development for the WVHTC Foundation. “Kvaerner Power will provide warehousing space, equipment and assembly labor. RCBI helped us identify and test manufacturing techniques and methods, provided prototype part manufacturing and will aid in the identification of area manufacturing sources to support this product.”
Azimuth completed both DFM (Design for Manufacture) and DFA (Design for Assembly) processes. DFM procedures mandated that the BomBot be designed so that it can be mass-produced cost-effectively, while DFA mandated that procedures be established to assemble the vehicle. Additionally, NOMADIO, Inc., of Philadelphia is also a strategic partner, manufacturing the remote control radio used on the BomBot system.
“The BomBot is designed to carry up to 10 pounds of explosives to a suspect improvised device, drop off the explosives and move away from the explosives so that the operator can detonate them,” DeRoos said. “In Iraq, for example, IEDs have been a big and deadly problem. While there are robots already in use that allow an operator to detonate them remotely, they’re expensive and don’t always survive the job. They were blowing up robots that cost nearly $150,000 trying to get rid of these IEDs. Here’s a solution that costs under $5,000 that does the same job and is much more mobile.”
Estep said that IRT’s infrastructure to manufacture the BomBot vehicles will not be a typical one. “Our goal is to strengthen the capabilities of area businesses,” said Estep. “The more classic approach to robot manufacturing would have been to do it all within one organization. We’re not doing it that way. It may create some business challenges, but it also creates opportunities for more businesses and more people this way. And that is one of the main charges of the WVHTC Foundation mission.”
Estep added that he anticipates growth in the robotics industry in the future. International domestic terrorism, hazardous material monitoring and cleanup, and surveillance in hostile environments are examples of scenarios where robotic vehicles play a role in keeping soldiers, first responders and law enforcement personnel out of harm’s way.
The WVHTC Foundation is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization based in Fairmont, W.Va., functioning as an engine of economic change for growing a statewide and regional high tech business sector. The Foundation has established a multi-faceted approach to maximize economic development, including infrastructure development, research and development, commercialization and affiliate services. For more information see http://www.wvhtf.org.