The U.S. Army’s Rapid Equipping Force (REF) used the recent Association of the U.S. Army 2012 Winter Symposium and Exhibition to highlight ongoing work in fielding and exploring the latest in robotic vehicle designs and capabilities.
Established in 2002 as a singular organization designed to address an Army-wide systemic deficiency in providing immediate technology solutions to deploying and pre-deploying forces, the REF has fielded thousands of equipment items in areas ranging from the enhanced detection of improvised explosive devices to renewable/alternative energy solutions for remote combat outposts.
Project Minotaur combines multiple commercial-off-the-shelf and government-off-the-shelf items to create a new tactical capability for dismounted military operations. Specifically, the system combines the Bobcat vehicle, the Qinetiq remote control system with camera, and government-developed mine roller/rake/sensor/detonator attachments to create a capability for dismounted units to clear a 4 to 5-foot wide path far more rapidly and safely than would be possible with a handheld mine detector.
The first Minotaur arrived in Afghanistan in November 2011, with three systems in theater as of the AUSA event in late February. Twelve additional systems are also slated for fielding at this time, followed by the recent receipt of a request for 52 additional systems to support combat operations.
Along with supporting the continued fielding of Minotaur, REF is also exploring two new developmental robotic platforms designed to facilitate tactical surveillance in challenging environmental conditions.
Project Sand Flea, for example, focuses on a new platform developed by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), Sandia Labs, and Boston Dynamics. The most unique design feature of the new platform is its ability to “leap” up to 8 meters, allowing it to propel itself to the roof of one or two storey structures to perform reconnaissance missions.
Project RHex, developed by DARPA and a consortium of universities, with a ruggedized version produced by Boston Dynamics, uses a series of six “flippers” to propel itself through water, foliage, swamps, and other challenging environmental obstacles.