November 20, 2011. David Pugliese Defence Watch
Michael Hoffman, my Defense News colleague, has the latest about a new robot (UAS) to take to the battlefield. The link to his full report is at the end of this excerpt:
U.S. Army Col. Peter Newell, head of the Rapid Equipping Force (REF), walked through the streets of Kandahar, Afghanistan, with ground commanders, who pointed to the 18-foot walls that line the many compounds both inside and outside the city.
On patrols, soldiers saddled with 100-pound loads either must scale the walls or kick down the doors to search the compounds, putting soldiers at risk from booby-traps or utter exhaustion. Without access to an overhead unmanned air system, the units also are vulnerable to an ambush.
Ground commanders told Newell they need another option.
“The tactical problem is, how do we sort what compound to look into and what not to?” Newell said. “How do we look over a wall before we go over it if I don’t have access to a UAS? What can I give the average squadron platoon that they can carry that allows them to repetitively look over walls?”
Newell’s acquisition agency, which has bought soldiers such life-saving gadgets as the Raven UAS and the Sniper Pod, turned again to robots – and found the Sand Flea.
Built by Boston Dynamics and the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, the Sand Flea looks like a laptop with four wheels. But it can leap up to 24 feet high, landing on its wheels every time.
Mounted with a camera, the Sand Flea can be remotely operated by soldiers, who can send the robot over the wall, drive it around to get an inside look at the compound, and then launch it back over the wall to search the next compound.
The REF will ship two Sand Fleas to Afghanistan this winter to be tested. Newell ordered eight more to gauge what soldiers think, but if the tests go well, he said, ground commanders likely will want thousands more shipped immediately.
Pistons connected to carbon dioxide canisters give the robot its vertical leap.
Boston Dynamics engineer Marc Raibert said the 10-pound Sand Flea can leap so that soldiers can put it through second-story windows. Engineers designed the wheels and ruggedized the camera to absorb the landings.
Raibert said soldiers can count on the Sand Flea to land on its wheels ready to drive because engineers stabilized the robot in flight.