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Applied Perception Begins Project to Expand Semi-Autonomous Capabilities for IED Neutralization
By Robotics Trends Staff - Filed Sep 17, 2006
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Applied Perception, Inc. (API), a Pittsburgh-based company that develops and licenses robotics-related technologies to market-leading companies in the fields of defense, transportation, and agriculture, today announced that it has been awarded a $928K contract from the National Center for Defense Robotics (NCDR) to support the development and evaluation of semi-autonomous technologies for IED and EOD missions. This project brings together API’s core JAUS-compliant perception, planning, and control expertise with an existing EOD/IED robotic platform.

For this project, called Semi-Autonomous Remote Ordnance Neutralization Systems (SARONS), API and its partner. Northrop Grumman Corporation’s (NYSE:NOC) Remotec, Inc., will add advanced semi-autonomy capabilities to an existing EOD/IED platform to help reduce operator workload and enable him to more precisely control and position the vehicle. These capabilities reduce risk to the robot when in proximity to potential IEDs, as well as to the robot operator, since he is able to maintain greater situational awareness.

Dr. Todd Jochem, President and Founder of API comments, “We are very pleased to have the opportunity to work on this project, particularly since IEDs represent the source of significant injuries and deaths in the current conflicts.” He goes on to add, “As with many of our current projects, we are the robotic system integrator and are adapting our existing, mature JAUS-compliant technologies to this new mission area.”

Parag Batavia, Ph.D., Principal Investigator on the program stated, “We are extremely pleased that our program was selected for award. We believe that the additional capabilities we will add to the SARONS platform will not only help keep EOD/IED robot operators safer, but will also decrease their mission time, enabling a quicker response to new threats. By concentrating on technologies which are robust and mature, we are enabling rapid user evaluation, which is a key early requirement for future deployment.”

One key to being able to quickly deliver a working prototype at a reasonable cost is the use of existing unmanned vehicle platforms and capabilities as a starting point for the system. API has leveraged internally developed technologies as well as software and capabilities developed under other Department of Defense unmanned vehicle programs. “This project enables continuing development and improvement of an existing, deployed platform,” stated Mack Barber, Remotec president, “We have a solid history of working with Applied Perception on other projects, and are pleased to integrate their JAUS-compliant semi-autonomy technologies onto our proven platforms.”

The API/NGR team will use the NCDR funding to develop and demonstrate advanced robotic technologies in three main areas:

Sensor Evaluation: A portion of this funding will be used to study a wide variety of sensor types and examples, for both obstacle avoidance and navigation. Typically, system developers and integrators make use of sensors which they are most familiar with. This funding gives us an opportunity to spend time examining and evaluating a broad range of sensors with an eye towards improving capability and reducing cost and complexity.

Vehicle Safeguarding: Current EOD vehicle operators spend a great deal of time and attention teleoperating the vehicle – sometimes with a loss of situational awareness. We are designing capabilities to add basic vehicle safeguarding, so that the operator can command a desired destination, and the platform is able to navigate to that destination with a minimum amount of operator involvement.

Precision Motion: In addition to safeguarding operator actions, there is a need to enable precise positioning of the vehicle. This can enable the operator to direct the vehicle to “move forward 4 inches”, rather than force him to attempt to remotely teleoperate the vehicle with high precision.

“The NCDR is pleased to award this task to API”, said Bill Thomasmeyer, President of the NCDR. “Time on site is a critical issue for the EOD technicians in the current Theater of Operations. This project will demonstrate how existing agile robotics technology can be applied to address this need and help accelerate the process of transitioning and integrating such technologies for use in the field.”

About Applied Perception, Inc.
Applied Perception was founded in 2001 by graduates of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute and is focused on developing and licensing unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) related technologies in the fields of defense, transportation, and agriculture. Applied Perception specializes in complete robotic system integration with a focus on computer software and sensors, but also encompassing electrical, mechanical, and communication technologies. These systems feature sophisticated perception, planning, and control capabilities to provide robust solutions to customer-driven problems. Applied Perception provides services and solutions to a wide variety of clients including Fortune 500 companies, federal and state government agencies, and academic research labs.

About Northrop Grumman Remotec
Northrop Grumman Remotec is part of Northrop Grumman’s Government Systems Division and is a world leader in designing and manufacturing mobile robotic systems for use in hazardous-duty operations. Over 1,300 NGR robots are in use worldwide by military organizations, law enforcement agencies, nuclear facilities, and research laboratories. Established in 1980 as a remote systems engineering firm, NGR has since redirected its mission to the design, manufacture and marketing of mobile robotic systems capable of replacing human workers in all types of hazardous environments.

About The National Center for Defense Robotics (NCDR)
The National Center for Defense Robotics (NCDR) is a Congressionally-funded initiative of The Technology Collaborative, a non-profit, technology-based economic development organization based in Pittsburgh, PA. The mission of the NCDR is to benefit our nation’s defenders and help develop a national ‘agile robotics’ industry by accelerating the pragmatic development, integration, & utilization of unmanned systems technologies for military and related homeland defense applications. The NCDR accomplishes this by administering a nation-wide alliance of universities, technology companies, defense manufacturers, and government organizations with an interest in advanced robotics systems and enabling technologies, by fostering collaborative relationships and forging partnerships and joint ventures among alliance members, and by funding and managing technology development projects undertaken by alliance members that meet identified, otherwise unmet government needs.

Acknowledgement of Support and Disclaimers
This work is supported by the National Center for Defense Robotics, an Initiative of The Technology Collaborative, and Crane Division, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane, Indiana, under Subcontract No. NCDR-05-04-C and Prime Contract No. N00164-05-D-6647, respectively. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this document are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Center for Defense Robotics or the United States Navy.

Todd Jochem
Applied Perception, Inc.
(724) 934-8965

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