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More Robotics Rodeos

And not their first...

If it wasn’t for the possible alliterative value, it’s likely that someone would have come up with a term to replace “Robotics Rodeos,” demonstration events designed to provide military or government planners with a chance to witness the latest capability developments in the rapidly changing world of ground robotic platforms. It’s not that folks don’t like the rodeos. It’s just that these events clearly “ain’t their first rodeo” for many robotic platform vendors. Recent examples include the Army’s Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Command (TARDEC)Robotics Rodeo III,” held in June 2012 at the Maneuver Battle Lab at Ft. Benning, Ga.  That third event in one particular robotics rodeo series allowed TARDEC to partner with JIEDDO and explore robotic technologies to support that organization’s missions.

IEDD vehicle on Robotics Rodeo course

A specially designed, unmanned improvised explosive device defeat vehicle traverses the Robotics Rodeo course. An arm aboard the vehicle lowers over a simulated threat site and blades begin digging to disarm the device. The 2012 Robotics Rodeo held at Fort Benning, Ga., June 20-29, 2012, allowed manufacturers to showcase the latest robotics technology designed to defeat battlefield threats, especially improvised explosive devices. U.S. Army photo

Not to be confused with the Ft. Benning events, the latest “Robot Rodeo” announcement was recently released by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Joint Science and Technology Office (JSTO), the Advanced Design and Manufacturing Division (ADM) of Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), and the Oklahoma State University Multispectral Laboratories (UML). The organizations are directing their rodeo activities toward the exploration of “improving operations and increased automation in sensitive site exploitation” through the use of robotic platforms.

According to the announcement, specific rodeo events are slated to begin in late June at the UML test facilities in Ponca City, Okla. “Competing robotic platforms will be judged on their ability to navigate certain obstacles using predetermined evaluation criteria,” the announcement reads.

“The purpose of this project is to revolutionize sensitive site assessment / exploitation tasks by working with an industry partner and enabling a highly mobile robotic systems to perform dexterous tasks with increasing autonomy,” it states. “The best performer of these events will be selected to work with ECBC in the development of one full-scale, prototype robotic platform and delivery system.”

six legged UGV Robotics Rodeo

A six-legged unmanned vehicle is demonstrated at the 2012 Robotics Rodeo held at Fort Benning, June 20-29, 2012. U.S. Army photo

It continues, “This event will allow vendors to demonstrate their robot platform capabilities by traversing a test-bed which simulates environments that the robot may encounter during a mission. Vendors can expect to be asked to maneuver their robots on various natural and artificial surfaces such as gravel, dirt, grass, asphalt, metal sheeting, concrete, and/or tile. Robots will also be expected to pass over, under, and around several obstacles: plumbing or electrical conduit, two-foot walls or platforms, stairs, and drops. Successful performance at this event will earn the vendor an invitation to the second, follow-up event during which the robotic communications will be tested.”

Vendors will have up to two hours to complete the test bed course with robots allowed up to three attempts for each obstacle.

The current “rodeo” schedule projects a practice day on June 25; phase I events on June 26; and evaluation and down-selection on June 27.


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