Applied Perception awarded $1 million DoD grant to expand development of agile robotic vehicles for wounded soldier extraction

Pittsburgh 26 May 2004Applied Perception Inc. (API), a Pittsburgh-based company that develops and licenses robotics-related technologies to market-leading companies in the fields of defense, transportation, and agriculture, has been awarded a follow-on, $1 million Phase II Plus Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the Department of Defense (DoD). The Phase II Plus programme will be executed concurrently with API's previously announced, baseline Phase II SBIR programme to adapt and integrate the company's proprietary outdoor mobile robot technology to comply with the Department of Defense Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems (JAUS) for use on patient evacuation, sentry/reconnaissance and other related military tasks.

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The current Phase II programme uses a novel marsupial robotic vehicle pair to enable a complete wounded soldier recovery system, from patient detection to extraction to evacuation. This effort is an initial proof-of-principle step toward a long term autonomous Combat Casualty Care capability envisioned by the Defense Advanced Research Agency and the Army Medical Research and Material Command. The Phase II Plus work will enable API, in conjunction with its partner REMOTEC, a Northrop Grumman subsidiary, to design and build dedicated project vehicles and examine advanced autonomy and collaboration technologies.

Todd Jochem, Ph.D., founder and president of API commented: "We are very pleased that our programme was selected for Phase II Plus funding. Among other things, this additional funding will allow us to field a complete system; one that medics and other military personnel can evaluate and test for long durations under field conditions. It's the first step in advancing the technology toward deployment, which is our goal."

Funding for the Phase II Plus programme is being provided by the Army SBIR programme through the United States Army Medical Research and Materiel Command Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center with matching funds provided by the United States Army Tank-Automotive Command and the Office of the Secretary of Defense Joint Robotics Programme. An important key to obtaining the matching funding was a preliminary study funded by the Pittsburgh-based National Center for Defense Robotics, a subsidiary of the Robotics Foundry. The follow-on contract is the largest solely government funded Phase II Plus grant ever awarded and brings the total project value to $1,9 million.

"The Robotics Foundry was pleased to have played a small but enabling role in securing the funding for this project", stated Bill Thomasmeyer, president of the Robotics Foundry. "The broad-based government financial support that API's project has received is indicative of the growing recognition throughout the defense robotics community that Southwestern Pennsylvania is the leading region for companies and organisations in the business of developing agile robotics capabilities and solutions. The award of this contract represents yet another significant step forward towards establishing a thriving agile robotics cluster here in the RoboCorridor and bodes well for future defense projects to be secured by robotics companies in our region."

One key to being able to realistically deliver a working prototype in such a short timeframe at a reasonable cost is the use of existing unmanned vehicle platforms as a starting point for the proposed system. Mack Barber, president of REMOTEC, stated: "This project represents the first government use of our new TAGS-DM robotic vehicle. This vehicle's performance characteristics make it perfect for its dual role on this project, as a patient evacuation vehicle, as well as a key component for robot sentry and reconnaissance applications. We're very pleased to continue our work with API. This programme provides additional opportunities to integrate their intelligent robotic technology onto our proven platforms."

The API/REMOTEC team will use the additional Phase II Plus funding to develop and demonstrate advanced robotic technologies in three main areas:

  • Dedicated Vehicle Procurement: The additional funding will allow the team to design and build a marsupial vehicle pair that will be dedicated to this programme. Previously, only surrogate or loaner vehicles were to be used. These dedicated vehicles will allow the team to have significantly more development time to improve the operational performance of the system in real world settings.
  • Support of Sentry/Reconnaissance Applications: In addition to the core robotic patient recovery application, the funding will support development and transition of technologies to the Sentry/Reconnaissance tasks. This work will include integrating specialized sensors and software into the system architecture and providing an application-specific multi-robot command and control scheme.
  • Multi-Robot Collaboration: The most advanced technical research area supported by this additional funding is the development of the infrastructure and algorithms to facilitate effective inter-robot collaboration, resource sharing, data exchange, and co-ordinated vehicle response to threat situations. Using this funding, the team will begin to explore how to accomplish these tasks within the JAUS (Joint Architecture for Unmanned System) framework and develop extensible JAUS components that can be used on any unmanned ground vehicle platform.

Applied Perception is a spin-off of Carnegie Mellon University that develops and licenses robotics-related technologies to market-leading companies in the fields of defense, transportation, agriculture, construction, and entertainment. Applied Perception specializes in the integration of sensors including camera, laser, sonar, radar, GPS, with sophisticated perception, planning and control software to provide robust solutions to product-driven problems. Applied Perception provides services and solutions to a wide variety of clients including Fortune500 companies, federal and state government agencies, and academic research labs.

The Army has established the Phase II Plus initiative to facilitate the rapid transition of promising SBIR technologies, products, and services into acquisition programmes. Under Phase II Plus, the Army provides matching SBIR funds to expand an existing Phase II that attracts investment funds from a DoD acquisition programme. Phase II Plus represents the latest innovation within the Army SBIR Programme, and continues the Army's emphasis on enabling the development and commercialization of dual-use technologies and products by small businesses. Since 1999 when the Phase II Plus programme was initiated, less than 75 awards have been made out of 850 DoD Phase II programmes.

REMOTEC Inc., a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman and part of the Government Systems Division, is a world expert in designing and manufacturing mobile robotic systems for use in hazardous-duty operations. Over 1300 REMOTEC robots are in use worldwide by military organisations, law enforcement agencies, nuclear facilities, and research laboratories. Established in 1980 as a remote systems engineering firm, REMOTEC has since redirected its mission to the design, manufacture and marketing of mobile robotic systems capable of replacing human workers in all types of hazardous environments.

The Robotics Foundry is an independent, non-profit economic development organisation that directs dual-purpose programmes and initiatives intended to accelerate the growth of the applied robotics industry and to establish a significant industry cluster in the "RoboCorridor" encompassing western Pennsylvania and beyond.


Leslie Versweyveld

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