Autonomy Artificial Intelligence Robotics (AAIR)

Lessons Learned in UXO Range Remediation with Robotic Applique Kits Installed on Leased Heavy Equipment

by Bob Selfridge; Gregory Hewitt


Converting vehicles from conventional manned operations to unmanned supervised operations has been slow to adoption in many industries due to cost, complexity (requiring more highly skilled personnel) and perceived lower productivity. Indeed, hazardous operations (military, nuclear cleanup, etc.) have seen the most significant implementations of robotics based solely on personnel safety. Starting in 2005, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has assumed a leading role in promoting the use of robotics in unexploded ordnance (UXO) range remediation. Although personnel safety is the primary component of the USACE mission, increasing productivity while reducing overall cost is an extremely important driver behind their program. To achieve this goal demands that robotic range clearance equipment be affordable, easy to install on rental equipment, durable and reliable (to minimize down-time), low or no maintenance, and easy to learn / operate by the same individuals who would normally be performing these operations manually. This paper concentrates on one of the important developments of this multi-faceted program. The implementation of Applied Research Associates (ARA) Modular-Robotic Applique Kits (M-RAKs) on CAT 521b Tracked Feller Bunchers and their deployment on a USACE range clearance project at Fort Bragg, NC over the past year. The discussion focuses on the challenges and practical lessons learned when remotely operating forestry equipment for extended periods with changing operators, including implementing user feedback to improve the M-RAK technology. Included is a discussion of the challenges encountered when remoting forestry equipment, including the potential for damaging components of the system, the operation of complex jaws, saws, and grinders, and RF communication issues when working behind trees. The paper also considers the impact of robotics on meeting objectives for improved productivity from the perspective of the USACE. Finally, we present future plans for expanding the application of robotics in UXO range clearance and remediation operations.