By Mr. Mark Schauer (ATEC)November 27, 2017
YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz.-- U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) conducts rapid and thorough testing of equipment in extreme natural environments.
It's often said, and a particular case in point concerns the remarkable Standoff Robotic Explosive Hazard Detection System (SREHD), an explosive detecting semi-autonomous system that not only detects things like land mines and improvised explosive devices, but also neutralizes them.
"The way it is able to traverse the range and follow the contour of the ground is very good," said Jesus Estrada, test officer. "It is the most advanced system I have worked with."
Many places in the world where American Soldiers deploy to are contaminated by literally millions of decades-old mines. Detecting these threats with a handheld device is slow, dangerous, and fatiguing work with possibly deadly consequences in the event of a mistake.
Enter the SREHD. Whereas previous mine-detecting robots only sported a single camera and a five-jointed mechanical arm for interrogating threats, the SREHD boasts stereoscopic cameras that provide a Soldier a three dimensional representation of the terrain being scanned on a handheld computer device and sophisticated sensors that help them discriminate between threatening devices and innocuous pieces of debris. A microphone mounted to the robot enables an operator to hear sounds in the vicinity of the system, too.
The SREHD methodically scans an area and marks a cleared trail with blue dye. If a threat is detected, the robot sprays an X on the ground to mark the spot: the Soldier operating the device can choose to retreat the vehicle and remotely detonate the discovered threat, or continue scanning before retreating and detonate multiple threats at once.
During , Soldiers from the 92nd Engineering Battalion at Fort Stewart, Ga. put the SREHD through its paces as they would in a route clearance convoy in combat areas, running the platforms across sandy trails and rugged washes and steep wahdis filled with stones and rocks, dead wood, thick brush, and other naturally-occurring debris. The recommendations of the Soldiers and test officers were rapidly incorporated into the system, which is currently undergoing additional testing in the same punishing environment.
"Over 400 updates were made to the system since our last RAM period," said Maj. Lendrick James, deputy product manager. "For this RAM period we will run the new units for 40 additional hours to improve our reliability. This will increase our stakeholders' confidence in the system."
"When we came out of testing last time, we were seeing issues with intermittent sweeping, communication issues, and our carriage system not arming correctly," added Phillyp Lawson, project lead. "Based on the testing we looked at the problems and prioritized what was critical to increase our reliability."
All involved cited YPG's intense terrain as a major factor in testing the system here.
"Nothing can emulate what Soldiers experience in theater, but this is a very difficult course to get through," said Lawson. "YPG is relevant to our scenario. It has a lot of washes and rough terrain that we're looking for, as well as the ability to bury targets."
Likewise, they had high praise for YPG's personnel, institutional knowledge, and test infrastructure.
"YPG is a great test facility," said Roger Nasci, program manager for Carnegie Robotic Laboratories. "The terrain represents the environment that we're working in and the YPG team has been really good helping us develop our technology and learning what we can improve."