TARDEC's new robot, completely government owned, maximizes platform flexibility with modular architecture for easy upgrades that are more affordable. The new GVR-Bot came about when TARDEC engineers began replacing the internal electronics and software of approximately 20 PackBot 500 and 510 robots with government designed and -owned software and hardware. The GVR-Bot and its Interoperability Profiles (IOP) V2-compliant, open-architecture design will be used by sister organizations in the Army research community.

A few years ago, when the cost of production and sustainment was high, the Robotics Systems Joint Program Office (RS JPO) began a program to standardize both the PackBot and the TALON, according to Ty Valascho, an electrical engineer in Ground Vehicle Robotics (GVR). "GVR received the portion of the project to standardize the PackBot," he said. "While the project was going on, the Army decided they would no longer support the PackBot standardization. We decided we would turn the program into a research platform."

Valascho said TARDEC will work with SBIR partners, ARL and any other interested groups that use robots. "We have a government-owned design which we can build in-house," he explained. "Eventually, we think we can make them into kits and organizations can build their own."

Valascho said one of the issues that contributed to the high cost of PackBot maintenance was that the inner workings were all one big piece. If something broke, the entire assembly/component had to be replaced. To combat that cost, TARDEC engineers have replaced the one-piece system with smaller, more affordable replacements -- a distributed architecture. "We broke it down into a lot of little pieces," said Valascho. "If anything breaks, you can trouble-shoot it down to that one part and bring the cost of maintenance down a lot. That was the primary driver for it all."

The second goal of the original program was to standardize the PackBot's interface to allow for the use of different payloads. "A third-party vendor could make a new sensor or arm and integrate it in," Valascho commented. The GVR-Bot is government-owned inside and out, so if you need a new sensor or a new feature, it can be done."

As a completely government-owned design, changing pieces on the robot becomes a much easier procedure. "This whole process, we are doing work that a contractor would usually do," explained Valascho. "As a research organization, we tend to focus on our narrow interests. We now have the ability to do that research and apply it to the base platform, where it can benefit everyone."

"We can build them in house, we design them in house, all the parts are in house," he added. "That solves quite a few problems for us… if there is a problem, or if we have to change direction, it is just us in this room."