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By Kevin Rooney, Managing Director, Northrop Grumman Remotec

In the world of unmanned ground vehicles for hazardous duty the time taken from ‘flash’ to ‘bang’ is critical – the longer it takes, the safer you are. When designing and supporting unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) for hazardous operations the ability to operate at a safe stand-off distance is life-saving.

Northrop Grumman’s operations at its Coventry facility have been a reliable source of that capability particularly for those employed in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and the disposal of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). This has been achieved through the company’s long association with the pioneering and innovative Wheelbarrow robot, which has now become recognised as one of the industry’s most trusted platforms, and CUTLASS the next generation unmanned ground vehicle system.

The design of UGVs is driven by ongoing and evolving threats, creative counter terror operations and the application of emerging technology. To defend lives and infrastructure and gather evidence, calls for integrated partnerships between vehicle operators and UGV designers. By listening to those who understand the threat first-hand, Northrop Grumman has been able to deliver the expert’s choice of UGV capability to assist and support safer counter-terror operations.

Early in 2009, the company launched its latest MK9 version of the Wheelbarrow UGV. The Wheelbarrow Mk9 improves the vision of the operator by incorporating more cameras and better lighting, while digital radios provide clearer and more robust transmitted images giving the operator a greater sense of situational awareness. The operator console features a colour touch-screen and multifunction joystick giving innovative yet intuitive control of the UGV. The high-strength manipulator arm is able to handle legacy and contemporary disrupters and other devices. The standardised interface allows for GPS, chemical and radiological sensors to be incorporated to extend capability into domains such as CBRN[e].
The company is now preparing to deliver a step-change in UGV capability with the CUTLASS system taking technology to a higher level of capability and sophistication. The system comprises a new 6-wheeled platform developed with an advanced software-monitored stability system that guides the operator over rugged and obstacle-ridden terrain. Patented tyre technology deforms and improves grip for kerb and stair climbing. The, 9 degree-of-freedom, manipulator arm aids dexterity and is built with composite materials for a reduced profile. It is capable of reaching into the most challenging of confined spaces using its fly-the-head guidance system and 3-finger gripper hand. The command console allows for complete control and feedback with multiple images of the situation, including tool-tip tracking using the pan and tilt search camera via digital radio and fibre optic communications. The console displays 3-D graphic feedback of the UGV system configuration when beyond the operator’s line of sight. The company has used its expertise and experience to implement software design that meets demanding safety-critical standards and simplifies the controls by taking complex mechanical movements and transposing them into natural commands so the operator remains in complete control in the intense environment of hazardous operations.

In developing the UGV system architecture models, the company has implemented common interface protocols that allow for future-proofing thereby accommodating sensor enhancement and adaptation for new disputers and devices. Ease and speed of maintenance is achieved with modular units that are replaceable in minutes with minimal tooling. With onsite and factory training of operators and maintainers the company is delivering lasting customer support and satisfaction.
Northrop Grumman Remotec designs today – to help solv

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