NEW CHALLENGES, NEW ROBOT. INTRODUCING AUNAV.NEO


By Rafael Jiménez Sánchez, Senior EOD Advisor at aunav, by everis ADS

aunav.NEO

aunav by everis ADS has been working in the robot security sector for over 15 years and has created the aunav range of robots to fight IED threats. The robots can be deployed in a variety of CBRN and EOD scenarios. Because the good results achieved by aunav robots were acknowledged by their primary customers, the Spanish TEDAX – Police EOD/CIED First Responders, the firm has become one of the leaders in the large robot category. Since 2003, more than 200 robots have been deployed in 16 countries, and have taken part in over 350.000 operations with the best possible outcome: no officers have been killed in Action (KIA) in operations where the aunav robots have been deployed.

Technology cannot be anchored in the past; aunav must evolve to keep up with a changing world. The search for innovative solutions has led the firm to develop new products: aunav.NEO and aunav.NEO HD (Heavy Duty), the only operational robots with variable geometry. It has been a tough road, but one with a satisfactory outcome: a better tool, one that is fit for purpose and keeps operators out of harm’s way.

How is it that the search for innovative solutions has led aunav to propose new solutions based on former experience to deal with new scenarios? The process of evolution is not easy to describe, but I will try to answer this question.

BACKGROUND

aunav robots were initially conceived to fight against terrorism in Spain. They were designed in close collaboration with the National Police, with the TEDAX-CBRN units. They were intended mainly to disarm a Vehicle Borne IED (VBIED), frequently used by the E.T.A. terrorist organization.

A vehicle (car, van, or truck) is the ideal vector for perpetrating an IED attack. This type of IED (VBIED) has extremely lethal characteristics: it is mobile and discrete in built-up areas; it can carry a large explosive payload; it generates fragments and causes extensive side effects; it can penetrate perimeters and be easily used by suicide bombers. An attack by a VBIED can follow an improvised or well thought-out plan, choosing the best time and place to produce the desired effect.

The use of these VBIEDs meant aunav robots had to have powerful manipulators and enough strength to force entry into a vehicle by tearing apart the body or breaking the most fragile elements (windshield, windows, and the like) without the need to use bursting charges (to avoid casualties in case of a kidnapped person in the boot), or for the operator to intervene directly.

Based on its clients’ demands, during the last 15 years aunav has specialized in developing the most advanced large robots. These combine strength, precision and great lifting capabilities (over 200 kg), using two synchronized arms (one hydraulic and one electric); this gives the robot a wide range of operational applications (deactivate EOD and pipe-bombs, use X-Ray scanning, manipulate bomb vests, and the like).

New IEDs can be manufactured from COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) components, many of which are easily accessible, and use extraordinarily complex and adaptable cutting-edge technology. They may be extremely difficult to detect, and can be manufactured in many ways, with different containers, initiation modes, and activation systems. The use of terrorist methods has an enormous impact on a society that rejects the use of violence. IEDs are the weapon of choice for terrorists; they are easy to use and can be adapted to countermeasures, and have an enormous impact, in contrast with their low cost. Currently, IED devices are increasingly being used in global terrorism. Consequently, the demand by first responders and armed forces for solutions to defeat the expanding range of explosive threats is growing.

The UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicle) seems to be the best tool to operate in hazardous environments against CBRN-E threats (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive). Knowledge and the right tool remain the key factors for success.

AUNAV’S APPROACH

aunav’s experience and the new scenarios led the firm to seek the best solution to cope with the new challenges by taking advantage of the capabilities offered by Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS).

  • The development and evolution of the RAS are related and conditioned by the evolution of other technological sectors (EMC Electromagnetic Compatibility, robustness and resilience of communications, information processing and system integration, navigation systems, artificial intelligence, and so on), and by the associated social factors (UNCCCW United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, LAW -Lethal Autonomous Weapons- constraints, restrictions in controlled and limited airspace with UAVs, amongst others).
  • As technological advances mean the autonomy of the robots and their performances can be improved, their field of application will expand dramatically to cover all scenarios requiring the intervention of First Responders. Threats such as COVID-19 are an example of how the use of EOD/ IED Robots (UGV Unmanned Ground Platform Vehicle) can identify and clear hazardous areas without risk of exposure to human operators, for example by using short-wave Ultraviolet Radiation (UV-C) in the 254 nm band. Firefighting in confined spaces also calls for the use of remotely operated vehicles.
  • These new possibilities will demand more flexible robotic solutions. This means installing new payloads on demand, rapidly adapting the UGV to operational needs.

aunav.NEO operating on an airplane.

  • Mobility is a key factor. As the IED/CBRN threats become more lethal, sophisticated and smaller, the capacity of the robot to access confined spaces such as airplane aisles, buses, and others is a common demand. The easier it is for the operator to manage the mobility challenges (stairs, doors, uneven floors, etc.) through computerized driving aids, the better will be the human-robot interaction. The robot must be easy to transport, deploy, and retrieve.
  • The advantages offered by the UGV – Unmanned Ground Vehicle – to military forces will transform them. The armed forces will have to adopt the new capabilities offered by these technologies, which will have an impact on organization, logistics, training, doctrines and tactics.
  • In the short and medium terms, unmanned systems will complement manned ones (Manned and Unmanned Teaming, MUM-T), acting as capacity multipliers and covering gaps in capacities that cannot be addressed due to human limitations, and our natural aversion to risk.
  • The need to integrate MUM-T forces, into the C2 (Command and Control) systems and multinational force structures makes the aspect of interoperability and the use of common standards a key factor.

aunav.NEO entering a bus.

AUNAV NEW SOLUTION: THE AUNAV.NEO

To overcome this new challenge, over the last 5 years aunav has developed a brand new aunav.NEO and aunav.NEO HD robots.

The aunav.NEO and aunav.NEO HD are medium-weight EOD/C-IED/CBRN robots specially designed to meet the demanding requirements of first responders and military operations, providing best-in-class lifting capacity, and superior dexterity and manoeuvrability.

They have a unique and revolutionary cutting-edge traction system that enables the remotely controlled robot to increase or reduce its width to operate in confined spaces, such as airplanes or trains, combining this feature with its self-control technology that can move its 4 flippers independently to keep the robot stable on any terrain.

Designed to be versatile, aunav.NEO and aunav. NEO HD can be fitted with several plug and play payloads on the arm and platform, according to mission requirements. For easy transportation, the flippers and arm can easily be detached from the platform. For easier maintenance, the robots use standard/ military commercial off-the-shelf rechargeable lithium-ion batteries (BB-2590/U and BB-2557/U).

The work carried out in recent years has allowed aunav to incorporate the following new features to the aunav.NEO and aunav.NEO HD.

1. Variable geometry

The aunav.NEO and aunav.NEO HD have a unique feature in the market (patented); namely, its ability to increase or reduce its width (from 400 mm to 680 mm) by remote control on demand, depending on the space required by the robot to move around. The 400 mm width enables the robots to traverse narrow spaces, such as the aisles on an airplane or a bus. This means the robots can move their flipper-traction system, thus increasing its width up to 680 mm, which will provide the necessary stability when the robots are working in open areas.

2. Lifting capacity and weight monitoring sensor

The lifting capacity for the aunav.NEO and aunav. NEO HD is 75 kg in their closed arm position and 20 kg when the arm is horizontally extended to 1,400 mm of its 1.800 mm maximum extension (the 20 kg are at 1,800 mm for the aunav.NEO HD). Furthermore, the arm is equipped with a weight-lifting monitoring sensor which enables the robots to monitor the weight of the lifted object in real time to prevent damage and send information to the operator on the weight being lifted.

3. Tools

There is a special set of accessory tools that can be attached to the rear side of the platform of the robots in a specially designed support in which up to two automatic tools can be stored. They are used in special cases for the needs of the EOD operator and its main advantage is that they can be used when needed without having to be installed in the robot’s gripper/arm from the beginning of the operation. Using pre-programmed movements, the robot can pick up or release a tool automatically, without operator intervention, regardless of the main arm’s position. Some of the robot’s tools are:

  • Disruptor: The disruptor tool is able to use any type of standard disruptor with its laser and rangefinder accessories.
  • Communication repeater: The communication radio repeater tool consists of a relay radio with MN-MIMO & COFDM technology, including battery, which allows expanding the robot control range well beyond the LOS range.

4. Automatic flipper management

This feature consists of automatic platform stability control using direct and automatic software actions on the robot’s flippers.

The software continually monitors the angle of the robot to the ground. When the robot is not completely parallel to the ground, the software acts directly on the flipper movements to place the robot parallel to the ground (auto-level function, aka. Horizontal Platform). The user can also modify the centre of gravity when lifting weights by moving the flippers accordingly (Stable Centre of Gravity function).

5. Plug & Play accessories

Sensors or accessories necessary for a successful mission (reconnaissance, defeat the threat, identification, etc.) are difficult to foresee at the start of a mission. The user must be able to conveniently and quickly fit or remove equipment from the robot to configure it to the mission needs and changing environment. To do so, all payloads (cameras, tools, lights, etc.) or sensors installed on the robot use the same physical interface (connectors) and the robot recognises all accessories or sensors in real time without rebooting the system. Payloads and sensors can be located at different connector locations of the robot, regardless of their power or data transmission requisites.

6. Easy transportation

Arm, flippers and batteries can be easily and quickly detached from the robot platform to reduce the weight and volume of robot for transport and storage, allowing its transport in any type of vehicle. Two people can move the robot from one place to another, if necessary, as recommended on MIL-STD-1472G.

aunav.NEO operating on a bus.

7. Autonomy

The aunav.NEO robot has a Smart SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) system that gives it the ability to perform autonomous navigation as follows:

  • Predefined routes: The predefined routes are those that are stored in the robot so that they can be performed repeatedly. They may be stored in two different ways:
    • Manual: The robot is moved manually from one start point to another end point. During the movement, the robot stores all the information necessary to repeat the route by itself.
    • Automatic: The GIS (Geographical Information System) analyses spatial location and organizes layers of information using maps and 3D captures. The waypoints through which the robot must travel from the starting point of the route to the end point are entered in the Maps module. When on route, the robot may encounter a certain obstacle blocking the way. In these situations, the robot can bypass the obstacle and return to the previously established route.
  • Follow-me: This feature refers to the robot’s capability to follow autonomously a person or another vehicle, so performing a leader-follower convoy manoeuvre.
  • Climb stairs: The robot climbs/descends stairs, completely autonomously, moving its flippers and arm as needed to ensure a safe climb and descent.
  • Out of range: It is possible that the robot loses the radio link communication coverage of a certain operating scenario. If this occurs, the robot can move autonomously to the last known position with radio communication coverage, following the same path in reverse order. This functionality is available even when the robot has deployed the communication repeater for extended coverage tool.

8. Operator Control Unit OCU

All aunav robots are controlled by the new Operator Control Unit (OCU) that uses a PC tablet with self-contained buttons and joysticks. It weighs under 10 Kg, including the radio system (COFDM), accessories and batteries, giving the operator great mobility.

All the GUI (Graphical User Interface) has been completely redesigned with a special focus on the usability of the application to facilitate the adoption of new features while maintaining user-friendliness. The robots may add more and more capabilities and complex tasking, but the operator must always be able to control the robot quickly and easily.

The new OCU automatically detects which of the robots from the aunav robot family is connected and automatically adapts its interface to the specific characteristics of each one. The operator can therefore manage all aunav robots using only one OCU.

9. Available accessories

  • Cameras: PTZ IR, IR, Thermal, Day and Night, 360º, UV
  • Fibre optic cable reel
  • Disruptors
  • Firing cable reel
  • Shotgun
  • X-Ray System
  • CBRN sensors
  • Gripper fitted tools
  • Large gripper
  • Ancillary Tools
  • Communication repeater/relay station
  • Additional standard battery module
  • Navigation module

In summary, as I expressed in the article ‘IMPROVING ROBOT DESIGN’ in the Spring/Summer 2020 edition of the Counter-IED Report (eBook: https://bit.ly/3iU0Coi), “the design of the ’perfect UGV’ is an impossible task”, but the combination of the skills and know-how of a project team with more than 15 years in the EOD robot field, and a continuous interaction with the final user, has led aunav to maintain the quality and excellence of their products in a new category of medium-size land robots capable of responding to current and future challenges. ■

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rafael Jiménez Sánchez joined the Spanish Military in 1978. After getting his commission as an Engineer Officer he was posted to the Mountain Brigade (Engineer Battalion) in San Sebastian. He graduated from the University of Zaragoza and got a Master Degree in Security and Defense. His Military records include courses such as UN Military Observer, Signal Officer, Camp Construction and EOD Officer.

His assignments and tours of duty since 1982 include Engineer Battalion at the Mountain Brigade, Instructor (Military Academy and Engineer School), Bridge Regiment, CID and EOD School. Tours of duty in Bosnia (1994-1996-1998), Instructor at ENTEC (2000), Chief Ops-Int and Spanish Engineer Unit Kabul (ISAF-2002/2003).

Promoted to Colonel in May 2011. He was appointed Director of the International Demining Centre (CID) and EOD School (Spanish Army).

Joined the Army reserve in 2018, since then is working as associated professor and EOD advisor for aunav robots, by everis Aerospace, Defense and Security.


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Counter-IED Report, Autumn 2020