23 March 2009
Flying robots to spy on Taliban bombmakers
A new army of robots will be introduced that could save the lives of many British soldiers, defence chiefs have said

By Thomas Harding
Daily Telegraph Defence Correspondent,

With the bomb threat in Afghanistan increasing accounting for two-thirds of casualties the Ministry of Defence is hurriedly moving into the robotic market to help combat the threat.

Lt Gen Andrew Figgures, the MoD’s head of procurement told The Daily Telegraph that the new devices were “undoubtedly saving lives”.

“These vehicles will improve our operational success and reduce our casualties.” He added that the vehicle would mean the military had to “change our conventional way of thinking”.

By next year it is hoped that instead of laboriously getting out on foot with mine detectors to examine potential roadside bombs at vulnerable points a host of tiny robots will take over the dangerous task.

With its “hover and stare” capability the small T-Hawk drone can go just inches above the ground or hundreds of feet up to look out for enemy hiding in ambush or a disused car or disturbed earth where a bomb might have been planted.

The micro air vehicle, that uses a fan duct engine to fly at 46mph, can be quickly launched from a backpack or out of the back of a vehicle allowing soldiers to look over a hill or into an approaching village.

It has already saved a number of American lives in Afghanistan where 25 are in service and the MoD could put them into service soon after buying six for evaluation each for the cost of a luxury car.

It offers a “hover and stare capability”, enabling close reconnaissance and scrutiny of potential threats without exposing the soldier operator to unnecessary risk.

The device named after the Tarantula Hawk that swoops down on the poisonous spiders in the desert, has the ability to take off and land vertically and can fly more than 50 minutes autonomously but if the operator sees something suspicious it can zoom in for greater investigation. It weighs less than 20lbs and comes equipped with day and infra-red cameras that relay information back to foot soldiers using a portable hand-held terminal.

The lives of courageous bomb-disposal experts are likely to become safer if the MoD adopt the Shadow Robot Company’s Dexterous Hand that is regarded as the most advanced robot hand in the world almost exactly duplicating the movement of human digits.

Using a special glove the operator can get the hand to move precisely like that of a human to wield a small screwdriver or cut wires.

A gadget that could take off as a major high street toy has become a desired item for American troops operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Dragonrunner is a small, highly robust four-wheeled buggy that can be mounted with an array of cameras and gadgets. But the” selling point of the “throwbot” is its agility. Soldiers can chuck it through windows and the machine will zip around a room identifying enemy and bombs before bursting out of the back of a house smashing windows as it goes. It has also been thrown out of the back of vehicles by troops driving through hostile towns where it can hide and spy on the population while soldiers can view the scene on a screen from a safe distance.

It also has the ability to place a disrupter device to detonate a bomb.

Global Network