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Polish Military Robots Pass Muster
November 3, 2014   
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As military technology develops, robots will soon replace human soldiers on the battlefield. For starters, they will assist humans in transport and reconnaissance tasks. And Polish military robotics experts are among those leading the way in Europe.

The strength of Polish military robots was demonstrated during the European Land-Robot Trial (ELROB) competition for European military robots in June held at the exercise site of the Military University of Technology (WAT) in Warsaw.

“Polish robots are increasingly participating in European programs and Polish firms supply armies around the world with the best technology,” said Prof. ZygmuntMierczyk, the rector of WAT in the rank of brigadier general. “That’s why this year we organized the ELROB competition, which was previously held in Germany.”

A total of 16 teams of robot designers from Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Russia, Canada and Poland competed at the university’s exercise sites. The competition covered five events that made it possible to demonstrate some of the latest unmanned systems intended for use in difficult terrain. Polish and German teams made it onto the podium in four events involving the use of unmanned land platforms. Poland was represented by teams from institutions including the Military University of Technology and the Warsaw-based Industrial Research Institute for Automation and Measurements (PIAP) as well as the Robotics Inventions company.

Competition events involved real-life situations that soldiers had to deal with when fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. The robots were expected to remotely transport loads between camps, locate and rescue wounded soldiers, and find and disarm buried bombs. They also had to conduct reconnaissance operations in uninhabited and built-up areas as well as in buildings during the day and at night.

In an event involving transporting cargo between two camps, the RI A-Bot robot designed by the Robotics Inventions team won. Second and third place went to WAT designers for their ATV MULE and Marek robots.

Although so-called unmanned land platforms are not armed or equipped with autonomous artificial intelligence systems, they are already at such a stage of development that they will soon become an integral part of army equipment, according to Mierczyk. They are already used by services responsible for people’s safety—for example during fires, floods, natural disasters, chemical contamination or a terrorist emergency, Mierczyk said.

For the time being, such robots are unlikely to become commonplace in everyday life. This is because the IT systems used in them are highly complex, and the sensors are expensive. What’s more, these systems are not uniform, so training operators poses a big challenge.

In all, six Polish teams took part in the ELROB competition, including three teams from the Department of Machine Design—part of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering—at the Military University of Technology (WAT) in Warsaw. The WAT teams demonstrated their Dromader, Marek and MULE robotic vehicles that are designed to aid human soldiers on the battlefield.

The Marek is a six-wheel vehicle that weighs 4 tons. The leader of the Marek team was MirosławPrzybysz, while RafałTypiak headed the MULE team. This last robot had been built on the basis of a Kawasaki off-road vehicle. It comes with an original control system designed by WAT researchers.

The Dromader is the smallest robotic vehicle in the range. This two-unit tracked articulated vehicle weighs around 500 kg. It was presented during the ELROB competition by PiotrKrogul.

Vehicles entered for the competition were expected to transport military gear from one place to another in difficult terrain conditions. They were also expected to locate wounded soldiers and take them to a designated site. They also had to demonstrate their ability to dispose of dangerous hardware.

The three devices, the Dromader, Marek and MULE, are not yet used by the army. They were designed as part of research projects predominately financed by the National Center for Research and Development (NCBiR). The WAT Department of Machine Design used its own funds to refashion the Kawasaki all-terrain vehicle into the MULE robotic vehicle.

Autonomy is the key to the success of the Robotic Inventions company. The company’s RI A-Bot proved to be the only design among those entered for the competition that was able to perform tasks without being remotely controlled by a human operator on a nonstop basis. The robot can be taught details about a specific route along which it is supposed to move, and it can then be allowed to travel on its own and make its own autonomous choices.

“Our software relieves the human operator of the burden of responsibility for repetitive actions related to cargo transport,” says ŁukaszKszonowski, the designer of the prototype robot. “The robot does not need to be remotely-controlled by a human operator; it makes its own decisions on how to do the job. This was the deciding factor in why we scored the highest number of points. Nobody else demonstrated a similar design during the competition.”

The RI A-Bot is a tracked GPS-enabled robot that can carry loads of up to 100 kg.

The solutions used by the designers make it possible to map out and overcome obstacles and identify danger areas. The robot can successfully be used to monitor borders, patrol strategic installations and buildings or sound the alarm to inform operators about approaching intruders to military camps. It has been designed for searching various sites, tunnels and buildings as well as for mapping, detecting both moving and stationary objects using a laser.

The main task of the robots demonstrated by the Industrial Research Institute for Automation and Measurements is to pick up suspicious-looking cargo and pull out. Such robots are already at the disposal of the military as well as rescue and emergency services.

The institute’s winning Gryf robot was designed by Andrzej Cieniuch, Sławomir Kapelko, Paweł Korba, Tomasz Krakówka, Stanisław Nycz, Maciej Wojtowicz and Mariusz Zboiński. It weighs 38 kg, performs reconnaissance tasks and transports suspicious-looking items weighing up to 15 kg. It neutralizes explosives using a pyrotechnic device. It is also possible to install a chemical contamination sensor on this robot. The robot is ready to be deployed within 3 seconds from being turned on. This is a unique feature. Other robots like this take up to several minutes to be activated. The Industrial Research Institute is responsible for developing highly efficient software that controls the robot.

Three other anti-terrorist robots designed by the institute were showcased at an exhibition accompanying the ELROB competition. They are already available for purchase both in Poland and abroad.

The first of them, the Expert, is a narrow, camera-equipped device designed for use in confined spaces, for example in airplanes, buses, trains and small rooms. When carrying a load, it supports itself on the side and does not fall over. Its arm is almost 3 meters long in a straight line from the ground. Thanks to this the robot can remove packages placed in the aircraft cargo area and under passengers’ seats. It is equipped with a grip that opens and rotates.

The robot has been designed to lift standard carry-on baggage on planes. Its design allows it to negotiate high obstacles and stairs. It also copes well with difficult terrain such as sand, mud and deep puddles. The robot is already produced in Poland and many emergency services have been provided with it.

The Ibis is the most modern of the robots produced in Poland. It can be used by the police, army and border guards. It is fast and efficient. It can disarm an explosive device on the spot and is equipped with multiple cameras at the front, at the rear and on the side to inspect areas between and under seats. The Ibis can handle operations in difficult terrain. The robot has a six-wheel drive mobile platform. Each wheel has its own drive motor and a unique mobile suspension design ensuring stability and all-wheel ground contact. The robot can accommodate various sensors and devices and can also perform firefighting operations with the use of a fire-hose nozzle.

The PIAP’s Scout, the predecessor of the Gryf, is the smallest but most universal robot. It can carry a load of up to 5 kg. Its wheel-track propulsion system enables it to move along just about any surface. The Scout is a robot designed to allow special police and military units to carry out quick reconnaissance missions and to work in hard-to-access spaces, such as a vehicle chassis, in rubble, in ventilation shafts or narrow rooms.

The number of points scored was not only thing that mattered during the ELROB competition. The main aim of the competition was to show how robots can provide real support for the activities of human soldiers and provide them with enhanced security.

In addition to the competition teams, several companies producing unmanned land platforms showcased their work. The exhibition featured items such as drones. These unmanned objects are already proving to be cheaper—and often better and more effective—in air operations than manned aircraft. Whole squadrons of such drones are now used by the military in some countries. Institutions such as the WAT are responsible for designing drone prototypes. The Warsaw university showcased its multi-rotor machines, some of which can fly at an altitude of around 200 meters. They are electrically powered and can be fitted with single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras for civilian reconnaissance applications.

GPS receivers are routinely mounted on such unmanned machines. Thanks to these, specialists can generate high-resolution digital models of land areas as well as aerial photographs used in urban planning, in planning the course of routes, and in monitoring large engineering structures. For example, drones make it is possible to monitor the amount of coal mined from an open-pit mine and monitor the progress of work during the construction of highways.

Those taking part in the exhibition included the WB Electronics company whose flagship design is the Lewiatan unmanned vehicle. This design was one of the first that WB Electronics produced together with the WAT. Later the National Center for Research and Development extended a helping hand. The Lewiatan can be used as a reconnaissance robot—if it is equipped with a special optoelectronic head, it can be sent to places that are hard to reach for human soldiers. It will also help firefighters during reconnaissance in a dense forest where there is a lot of smoke. Sometimes such robots can be used in difficult conditions where heavy-duty equipment is normally needed, for example in wetland. The Lewiatan can also be used as a battlefield robot if a gun is mounted on it. The robot won an award from the Defense Minister for best R&D project in the field of defense.

Researchers from the ŁódĽ University of Technology showcased their RoboKIS 2 mobile battlefield robot. This can automatically avoid obstacles and is also capable of keeping track of humans during missions, creating maps and carrying out observation tasks. It has been built by a team of doctoral students supervised by Prof. DominikSankowski at the ŁódĽ University of Technology Institute of Applied Computer Science, in association with local companies.

The RoboKIS 2 has proved successful at tasks related to observation and reconnaissance. Three types of cameras, for thermal imaging, night vision and visible light, enable it to operate under different lighting conditions. The robot moves in a designated direction, detecting and avoiding obstacles. There is no need to control it all the time. It can also keep track of a human and follow him. The robot has already been tested on training sites by the military and firefighters, where it aroused a great deal of interest.

The robot has been built with the financial support of the National Center for Research and Development and the National Science Center. Work began in 2009 and resulted in the development of two prototypes.

The robot comes with a GPS navigation system and a laser scanner that makes it possible to draw up maps of specific areas. It weighs just over 70 kg and has a top speed of around 6 kph. It can work for six hours without recharging.

Karolina Olszewska


Factfile

The European Land-Robot Trial (ELROB) is an event that aims to demonstrate the abilities of modern European robots.

The ELROB is not a competition in the strict sense of the word, but a demonstration of what European robot designers are able to achieve. The competition events are designed to simulate real world missions, be it military or civilian ones.

The first ELROB was organized in 2006 by the German armed forces. The goal was to spur the development of unmanned ground vehicles that could be used in military missions on short notice.

The ELROB is an annual event and alternates between a military and a civilian focus each year. The military ELROB (M-ELROB for short) takes place every two years and has a sharp focus on practical systems that are able to fulfill the requirements of common military tasks. M-ELROB is designed to bring together users, researchers and industry.


Robots and More

The Industrial Research Institute for Automation and Measurements (PIAP) is a state-run research center based in Warsaw that designs and builds mobile robots for various applications.

The institute carries out and coordinates national and international multi-partner projects as part of research programs co-financed by Poland’s National Center for Research and Development (NCBiR), the European Commission, NATO, the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), as well as in cooperation with U.S. and Israeli partners.

Over the past two decades, the PIAP has developed a number of new technologies, either independently or in collaboration with other research and academic centers in Poland and abroad.

For 15 years the PIAP has been designing and manufacturing advanced electronic and mechanical systems for military and police applications. A range of advanced mobile robots as well as robotic devices developed in the institute’s laboratories has been successfully implemented in Poland and abroad. All these solutions have been developed in collaboration with end users, such as the police, border guards, the Government Protection Bureau, firefighters and the army.

In total, more than 150 robots have been manufactured and sold. These hi-tech devices are used for a range of tasks that are dangerous for humans.

PIAP engineers are working on several new designs, including robots under the Proteus project, which seeks to develop a state-of-the-art system for counterterrorist and crisis management uses. The system will be fully integrated and comprise three multifunction robots, an unmanned aerial vehicle, and a mobile command center.
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