October 29, 2004 John Deere and iRobot have unveiled the Military R-Gator, an intelligent unmanned ground vehicle that will use off-the-shelf technology to autonomously perform dangerous and taxing missions. The R-Gator combines John Deere's rugged utility Gator with iRobot's robotics technology. The Robotic Gator, or R-Gator as it is called, is built on the combat-proven John Deere M-Gator military utility vehicle platform, and enhanced with proven iRobot military robotic controls and navigation and obstacle avoidance systems. The intelligent, durable and flexible R-Gator is designed to serve numerous important roles, including acting as an unmanned scout, "point man," perimeter guard, pack/ammo/supply carrier and more for soldiers, marines and airmen.
The R-Gator's combined robotic intelligence, durability and flexibility will enable it to perform unmanned reconnaissance both on- and off-road, relay real-time video, sounds and sensor readings from a potentially hostile area without putting soldiers at risk.
The R-Gator will also be used for perimeter patrols, freeing soldiers for more important tasks. The remote video also allows the surveillance and inspection of dangerous or sensitive areas such as pipelines, from miles away.
It can also shuttle supplies automatically from rear supply points to forward operating positions, using either down-loaded GPS waypoints or waypoints collected dynamically during operations.
One intended usage of the R-Gator is that of following in soldiers' footsteps carrying heavy backpacks, ammunition and supplies, reducing soldier fatigue and freeing them to focus on the mission at hand.
The R-Gator can also be upgraded to perform hazardous Nuclear/Biological/Chemical, ChemRad and Explosive Ordnance Disposal missions.
Until now, autonomous ground vehicles have been developed and built using custom technology on an individual basis, which can be a time-consuming and costly process. Using available systems, John Deere and iRobot plan to begin pilot production of the R-Gator by mid-2005, with full production slated to begin by 2006.
Being a readily available off-the-shelf solution will allow the R-Gator to be swiftly deployed.
"John Deere's class of rugged military vehicles offers the ideal platform for our advanced robotics intelligence," said Vice Admiral Joseph Dyer (U.S. Navy, Ret.), executive vice president and general manager of iRobot's Government & Industrial Robotics division. "The R-Gator will be a great asset in helping develop the tactics and doctrine for unmanned vehicles in combat. It is the first of a new, smarter breed of military systems that capitalize on robotic intelligence to handle difficult and dangerous tasks. The goal is clear - to keep our military personnel out of harm's way whenever we can."
The R-Gator retains full manual operation capability - with a single switch, the operator can transition from autonomous or tele-operated modes to manual mode. When in autonomous mode, the operator can intervene and take control of the R-Gator at any time. The R-Gator features forward and aft Scanning Laser Radar sensors which detect obstacles and guide the system during leader-follower operations. Forward and rear cameras provide a continuous video stream to the Operator Control Unit.
The R-Gator is based on the combat-proven John Deere M-Gator, a rugged, reliable drop-zone utility vehicle that deployed with the first units to see action in the opening days of Operation Enduring Freedom. Thousands of M-Gators have now been delivered to military units all over the world, and are in extensive use in both Iraq and Afghanistan. iRobot's military expertise in combat-proven robotics is exemplified in the PackBot, a rugged, man-portable robot that can be hand-carried and deployed by a single soldier. PackBots have been used in thousands of missions in Iraq and Afghanistan to disarm road-side bombs and other improvised explosive devices and to search through potentially hostile caves and buildings for terrorists.