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Project Minotaur, Project Sand Flea, and Project RHex

The U.S. Army’s Rapid Equipping Force explores and fields new robotic capabilities

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.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-76414">

    As far as I know, the RHex robot was not developed by Boston Dynamics: this is completely incorrect. The technology was developed around 2000-2003 by a group of university researchers from Carnegie-Mellon, McGill, University of Michigan and UC Berkeley, notably Professors Martin Buehler (who built them at McGill), Robert Full, Dan Koditschek and Al Rizzi. ad their students and employees. Buehler went to work for Boston Dynamics ofr a time, but now works elsewhere. McGill and U Mich jointly own the relevant patent and have licensed it to a company (Independent Robotics Inc.) that is not Boston Dynamics.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-77942">

    From what I have learned, there have been several versions or variants of RHex, and the Boston Dynamics variant of RHex is a company development of the original design, made more rugged for military work, but your point is taken, and I’ve tweaked the sentence. There were actually a few more universities involved with the original DARPA program as well. I also understood the Independent Robotics Aqua 2.0 version to be the one associated with McGill University, based on a waterproof body and with flippers/legs adapted for swimming, but I would be happy to learn more about the relevant patent and licensing situation.